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Tennessee Governor signs executive order to increase school safety

Governor Bill Lee has signed Executive Order 97, which aims to improve school safety amidst mass shootings.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The unsettling tragedy that took the lives of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas left Americans across the country disturbed and on high alert. And now Governor Bill Lee is making changes that he said will increase school safety in Tennessee.

Governor Lee issued an executive order that he said will evaluate school security protocols and law enforcement responses for handling active shooter scenarios.

The executive order will also provide resources that will allow law enforcement, teachers and parents to improve school security practices, Governor Lee said.

“Tennessee has built a firm foundation with our practical approach to securing schools, recognizing crisis and providing confidential reporting of any suspicious activity,” said Governor Lee. “This order strengthens accountability and transparency around existing school safety planning and assures Tennessee parents that our efforts to protect students and teachers will continue.”

The mass school shooting that ripped Uvalde, Texas apart was the the largest mass school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012, and the incident left people all over demanding change. 

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What does the executive order require for law enforcement?

According to the executive order, the Department of Commerce & Insurance (DOCI) must review the current law enforcement training standards that are used handle incidents involving active shooters and determine where improvements can be made.

Recommendations and suggestions must be submitted to Governor Lee with an evaluation report by July 1.

The order also requires the DOCI to evaluate the use of armed security guards in non-public schools, and it requires DOCI and the Department of Homeland Security to report the need for active-shooter training for armed guards.

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What does the order require for schools?

The executive order requires schools to tighten up in several areas.

According to Governor Lee’s order, local school districts in Tennessee must publish an updated School Safety Plan Template by July 1.

Governor Lee’s executive order also requires each public school to complete an annual school security assessment.

The school safety plan states that local school districts must identify its specific struggles with school safety, detail its spending on building security and additional school safety initiatives that are meant to improve or mitigate the identified struggles with school safety, and designate a single point of contact for school safety matters for each individual district.

The order also instructs Tennessee state agencies to provide guidance to local school districts by completing regular audits to school safety plans, whether audits are completed remotely or through random in-person verification visits from state officials.

How does the order make parents feel safe and informed?

Governor Lee said that “parents need to have full confidence that their children are safe at school.”

In the executive order, Governor Lee said parents will be given an engagement guide that gives parents clear instructions of how to report dangerous or suspicious activity through an app called SafeTN.

The guide is also said to provide parents with mental health resources for their children.

Response to the executive order

Mid-South educators weighed in to the executive order Monday.

Dr. Anntriniece Napper with the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association told ABC24: "My biggest concern, I didn't see how it would be funded, would the Governor, would they be sending money for Memphis-Shelby County Schools? I think as far as safety and security issues (at MSCS) I think they are doing an excellent job because we are informed, if something goes on in a school, teachers get a text or there is an email done promptly."

Kathryn Vaughn with the Tipton County Education Association added: “The teachers and police officers in Uvalde had ample school safety training and an SRO on the campus. What we need in Tennessee is gun safety and background checks.”

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Tennessee Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) issued the following statement: "Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children in America. We are the only country in the world with a major political party that chooses to do nothing to stop gun violence from kill our kids. Unfortunately, Gov. Bill Lee's executive order on school safety is more of the same. While I am again disappointed, I am not surprised.

Taking action to reduce gun violence shouldn't come down to party politics. This is a clear emergency and we must act now. We cannot allow another person to be murdered in a school, grocery store, or place of worship.

There have been nearly two dozen mass shootings in America since the Uvalde massacre at Robb Elementary. At least 54 people were injured and 11 were killed in separate mass shootings this weekend, one of which was in Chattanooga, where three Tennesseans died.

It's not video games. It's not our teachers or library books. It's guns. 

We cannot continue to let gun industry lobbyists decide what's best for public health and safety. It's killing us. I reject the notion that we are helpless against confronting gun violence.

Tennessee families believe in responsible gun ownership and they support laws that would deny firearms and weapons of war to people who can't pass a background check. That's not radical. That's just common sense.

For all the talk about freedom, remember that our families and kids deserve the freedom to live. There are plenty of evidence-based solutions to reduce gun violence that work. If we can save another family from the pain and anguish of burying an 9-year-old child, I feel morally obligated to try."

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The Professional Educators of Tennessee said: "We appreciate and welcome Governor Lee’s continued commitment to school safety. This is one of his most comprehensive plans to address safety concerns the administration has put forth. Local school security assessments and school safety plans should be conducted by skilled men and women in law enforcement, with more experience in this area. The use of existing federal ESSER funds is appropriate and must include ongoing state monies in the future. Our major concern is that the development of additional training and educational materials regarding school safety for educators, school leaders, and staff should be earlier, preferably mid-July at the latest. when most schools resume for the 2022-2023 school year, not in August."

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