In June, I was excited to see TN Governor Bill Lee sign Executive Order 97, as this is a great first step in trying to mitigate and prevent violence against our children, teachers and schools across Tennessee. Due to Gov. Lee’s legislation, every public school in the State will now conduct a school security assessment using an assessment tool developed by the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security (TDOHS). The Governor’s staff is to be commended for this bold action, as many states are simply wringing their hands of this crisis at the legislative level.
During my 20-year experience in the United States Air Force, and 10 additional years in the Federal Government’s Department of Homeland Security Air Marshal Program, the first questions about any new Directives or Orders usually involve “who is responsible and how will it get done?”
This new Executive Order states Law Enforcement and School Administrators will be the executors for these annual school assessments, implementing best practices and creating individual school safety plans for each school. With over 1700 public schools, and 600 private schools in Tennessee, this Executive Order may be challenged from the start!
From my experience, two glaring issues could easily derail the value and intent of this new Tennessee Law TCA 49-6-4302:
(1). The designated Assessors will be a School Administrator and a local Law Enforcement Officer, who will receive their Risk Security Assessment Certification by watching a two hour online video! Having spent months, years, and decades in formalized training programs to recognize dangers and defeat domestic threats, I see how unrealistic (if not unsound) this Security Certification process is! Tasking a School Administrator, who is not a security expert, and relying on a law enforcement community that is woefully understaffed and overworked, is setting up this executive order for failure.
(2). This mandated annual Security Assessment will follow a scripted YES/NO checklist, that takes approximately 2-4 hours per school building. It does not appear to include interviews, discussions, photo and video documentation, or potential solutions from the Stakeholders (teachers) during this brief evaluation! Also, since a normal school day is 7-8 hours long, the very nature of this Executive Order is discounting the real-life scenarios of more than half of the school day. The dynamics of every school includes arrivals, recesses, lunch, assemblies, dismissals and after school activities, which could never be included in this abbreviated Security Assessment. The current design of this program will leave lots of unanswered questions and a “false sense of security”!
Emergent threats require fast action, and for that I applaud Governor Lee who was quick to produce what businesses refer to as an MVP (most viable product). Now it’s time for the teachers, parents, grandparents and friends of our school children to critically review Tennessee Law TCA 49-6-4302 and recommend improvements.
How is your child’s school handling its assessment? How much time have officials actually spent on your child’s school campus? Has your child’s School Administrator initiated a highly specialized safety review, or a cookie-cutter assessment that resembles one completed at any other school? What unique credentials does your school’s lead investigator or administrator have to qualify them for protecting your child’s life?
As a military-trained operations expert and a personal defense instructor the last 40 years, I know a lot of work remains in protecting our Tennessee school children. As the mass killings those 19 school children in Uvaldi, Texas showed us, we cannot afford to get this “almost right.”