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Metro Kicks Off Series of School Safety Meetings | Pith in the Wind | #schoolsaftey

On Wednesday, the city hosted the first of three school safety meetings following the Covenant School shooting, which left three students and three staff members dead. As the school district, the police and fire departments, the Metro Council, state lawmakers and other groups discuss these matters, they’re inviting community members to be a part of the conversation.

City leaders spoke to the Metro Council’s education and public health and safety committees about the safety measures that the school district has taken — some of them old, some new. At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, following the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, the Metro Nashville Police Department announced a new school safety division. At the same time, Metro Nashville Public Schools announced its plan to bring on “safety ambassadors,” or unarmed security personnel to be stationed in elementary schools. School resource officers are armed MNPD officers who work at middle and high schools — this has been the case for years. Because these are separate Metro divisions that work in schools, they maintain frequent collaboration.

“If we don’t speak daily, we speak at least weekly,” said Lt. Jason Picanzo of MNPD’s school safety division. “We may not always see eye to eye on certain things, maybe on what our responses is to something. But we always have a mutual respect and agreeance because we’re all on the same page.”

School security conversations can be divisive. While some want to see more police presence in schools, others worry how that could affect students and present other risks. Research indicates that students of color and those with disabilities are disproportionately arrested in schools. At-Large Councilmember Zulfat Suara acknowledged this at the meeting. 

“The phrase ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ was coined out of somewhere,” said Suara. “So I wanted to make sure that, as the audience are looking, as we all are having this conversation, that they know that we’re ready to have the tough conversations along with it, so we can have a lasting solution.”

MNPS COO Maura Black Sullivan encouraged folks who are aware of threats or suspicious behavior to contact the schools, MNPS’ family information center or the police. Mechanisms already in place to bolster schools against threats include security vestibules, AV intercom locks, routine drills, locked classrooms, interior and exterior cameras, badge access control, a K-9 division and a visitor management system. The district also considers social and emotional learning strategies as a part of its school safety approach. 

Additionally, the district and MNPD are recruiting to fill SROs and safety ambassador vacancies, engaging in more school safety trainings and hoping to invest in shatter-resistant film that could slow down active shooters. These new and continued measures take funding — a matter up to the Metro Council, which is nearing the end of the budget cycle. State funds could also help with security matters, but MNPS and MNPD need to apply for those grants and not all of the money is recurring. 

Nashville’s state Reps. Bob Freeman and Caleb Hemmer attended Wednesday’s event to discuss the state’s status on school safety — another contentious topic. While lawmakers passed a school safety bill, it didn’t address guns. State Democrats have called for gun reform, and Republican Gov. Bill Lee has proposed an extreme risk protection order and a special session pertaining to gun laws. His Republican colleagues have resisted both ideas. While the session is still up in the air, Freeman suggested folks talk with friends and family in other parts of the state and encourage them to ask their lawmakers for a special session and gun reform. 

Despite the flood of information from last night’s meeting, parents and community members still have many questions and concerns about the city’s school safety response and how it filters down to individual schools. Folks can submit questions and comments here (keep in mind that there is a deadline) and see details of future meetings below.

Wednesday, June 21, at 6 p.m.: Hillsboro High School Auditorium

Moderated panel discussion with Daniel Chapin, founder/president of The Uvalde Foundation for Kids, Moms Demand Action, and Shaundelle Brooks, co-founder/president of the Akilah Dasilva Foundation, plus pre-submitted questions from the public

Wednesday, June 28, at 4 p.m.: Council Chambers, Historic Metro Courthouse 

Special Metro Council Public Health & Safety Committee meeting focusing on gun violence as a public health epidemic with the Metro Public Health Department, the Mayor’s Office of Community Safety, Metro’s Office of Family Safety, and the Mental Health Cooperative

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