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Report: TN School Safety Gets Passing Grades

by Andrea Zelinski on December 9, 2009

The state comptroller’s office says there’s always more that could be done to protect students from harm on school grounds, but that most K-12 facilities are meeting recognized safety benchmarks.

State funding for school safety has dropped over recent years, falling from $12.1 million in 2004 to $9.7 million in 2008, legislative research analyst Susan Mattson, who works for the state comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability, told members of the Joint Education Oversight Committee Tuesday. It’s unclear as yet how much of the remaining state funds will survive the latest round of budget reductions.

“Schools need additional guidance and tools to determine the appropriate balance between security and prevention methods to most effectively address the potential for violent incidents in their particular circumstances,” according the comptroller’s report (pdf).

But not all the changes to make schools safer need to cost more money, said Mike Herrmann, executive director of the Office of School Safety and Learning Support.

Schools should be teaming up with local police departments, mental health officials and others to develop a safe school environment, he said.

“Really what we’re talking about is tools. And in a lot of ways, the tools are only as effective as the people using them,” Herrmann said.

He added that Vanderbilt Mental Health has helped train school counselors to develop a trauma support team, a practice which has been ongoing for the last four years. Meanwhile, more than 550 police officers have regular contact with Tennessee schools, Herrmann said.

Oftentimes, making schools safer could boil down to something as simple as making sure students have adults they’re comfortable confiding in and who can accurately identify troubled students.

A key to better safety, Mattson said, is devising better violence prevention and security measures.

Mattson also recommended the state consider standardizing building security measures. And the state should develop more statewide assessments of overall school safety, offer guidance on school safety methods and consider how to more effectively allocate state and federal dollars to achieve the best results.

Over the last 15 years, nine violent incidents were reported on school
property, resulting in 10 deaths, she said.

In 2007, six percent of students said they have carried guns to
school, compared to 18 percent in 1997, according to Mattson.

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