School bus

Tennessee schools meet or exceed most national safety standards, but there are areas in need of improvement, according to the state’s first comprehensive security review of all public schools.

In the findings, the Tennessee Department of Education highlights schools’ safety preparedness by examining three areas of data submitted by all 147 school districts: school security assessments, emergency operation plans and drill logs.

Gov. Bill Haslam ordered the review in March, just weeks after a mass shooting that left 17 dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school. 

Strengths and weaknesses

The security assessment found strengths in most of the categories — perimeter control, visitor management, communications, emergency planning and prevention, training and personnel.

It also highlights potential areas of improvement, including vehicle control (limiting vehicle access on school grounds), access control (preventing unauthorized access to schools and classrooms), and surveillance (monitoring and documenting activity on school grounds and buildings).

Here's what the report said about underperformance:

"It is possible that schools scored the lowest in these particular domains because they include measures that require the greatest fiscal resources to implement ... these domains include items such as vehicle barriers, blast resistant windows, and closed circuit television surveillance systems—all items for which implementation carries a significant price tag." 

What's next?

Moving forward, the department has identified five key actions to address the challenges identified during the review of safety data:

  • Identify priorities for supporting districts and schools.

  • Revise emergency operation plans and drill log templates to enhance planning and improve documentation.

  • Create options for delivering training and guidance that provide flexibility and build local capacity.

  • Monitor grant spending and results to identify promising practices.

  • Integrate safety planning requirements into the school approval process.

To support school safety measures, the Tennessee General Assembly approved $25 million in one-time funding and $10 million in recurring grant funding.

What they said

"We know that safety must be an ongoing process of continuous improvement," said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. "This report continues the work started with individual school assessments by providing a state-level view of current practices and identifying opportunities for improvement."

How often are drills conducted?

Schools conduct an average of nearly 15 emergency drills per year. During each school year, schools must complete the following drills:

  • One fire drill with full evacuation every 30 school days, with two of those fire drills occurring within the first 30 days of the school year

  • One intruder drill conducted in coordination with local law enforcement

  • One CPR/AED drill for each school having one or more AEDs

  • Three additional drills (full evacuation not required)

  • Two earthquake drills for schools or districts entirely or partially within 100 miles of the New Madrid Fault Line

You can read the full 18-page report here.

Dylan Skye Aycock is a Nashville-based journalist and photographer. As a reporter for Rover, Aycock follows transportation, housing and retail trends, as well as other hyperlocal and city-wide issues that affect residents in Green Hills and Belle Meade.

She previously contributed written and visual content to The Murfreesboro Pulse, American Songwriter Magazine and The Tennessean. Aycock earned a journalism degree from Middle Tennessee State University, where she honed her craft as editor-in-chief of Sidelines, the university's student-run publication. When she's not out on assignment or live-tweeting city council meetings, you can find her discovering new local spots or catching a show at one of Nashville's many music venues.


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