NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – As schools in Middle Tennessee move into their second full week of classes, parents still have a lot on their minds when it comes to adjusting to the new academic year.
Getting familiar with bus schedules, remembering teacher names and managing lunch menus. But the paramount concern for most parents is their child’s safety and security at their school.
“Every parent thinks and worries about their kids and where they are and what they’re doing all day and if they’re safe.”
A mother of two children who attend Metro schools, one in elementary and the other in middle school, Susan Seay says whenever she or her husband have questions about security at their children’s school, they go straight to the source.
“We always have questions for the principals and administration and at both of my kids’ schools, they are very open.”
Some of that open communication may soon be going away, because state and district leaders say there is less they can share regarding school security, due to a change in state law that took effect July 1 and expands the types of information that must be treated as confidential.
But WSMV4 Investigates discovered that the change in law blocks access to some basic information about school security, that until recently the state and some school districts routinely provided through public records requests.
One example is data from the Safe Tennessee App, which allows people to anonymously report threats against school security via a smart device. Last fall the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security provided WSMV4 Investigates with the number of people using the app shortly after its launch when that data was requested as a public record.
But last month, citing the new law, the department denied a new public request for that same data covering the entire 2022-2023 school year.
Wanting to gauge how Middle Tennessee school districts would interpret the change in law, WSMV4 Investigates filed public records requests asking for broad sets of data regarding school security, but without asking for details at any specific school.
The three questions asked were:
- The total number of security drills performed district-wide last year.
- The number of schools with bulletproof window film.
- The number of schools with vehicle barriers outside the front door.
Sumner County Schools did not reply to the request at all. Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools and Williamson County Schools provided data sets on all three questions, while Metro Schools answered two of the three questions.
However, Rutherford County Schools and Wilson County Schools denied WSMV4 Investigates’ records request in its entirety, calling the data requested confidential safety and security plans.
And that becomes the key moving forward, in determining how much information parents and the public may be able to access when it comes to school safety. Districts that interpret data or records as something related to a security or safety plan are going to be far less likely to share that information.
So ultimately, parents may need to follow Seay’s lead when they want to get their questions about school safety answered.
“When there is a serious threat, I trust that the administration is keeping us in the loop and letting us know what’s going on.”
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