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Nashville police visit Sarasota school to discuss active shooter responses | #schoolsaftey

Education extends beyond teaching “reading, writing and arithmetic” and now includes an element of responsibility for safety, said Commander Scott Byrd of the Nashville Metro Police Department.

Byrd was describing why Carl Williams, Jr., assistant principal at Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences, contacted the department.

The school welcomed Byrd, who is commander of the Nashville police’s Special Operations Division, along with Steven Bowers, captain of the School Safety Division, on Aug. 9.

The event was held for staff and board members of the school and of nearby Sarasota Military Academy, with which the school collaborates, as well as administrators of other charter schools, Sarasota County Schools’ Office of Accountability and Choice Supervisor Millie Wheeler, and members of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and Sarasota Police Department.

Byrd served as deputy incident commander on-scene during the March 27, 2023, active shooter incident at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, while Bowers served as a branch commander for family reunification efforts and counseling support at the time. Byrd also oversaw the launch of the School Safety Division, serving as its commander.

Practicing the safest outlook

Byrd said the incident at The Covenant School, which claimed six lives, saw many lives saved, and that one factor in this outcome was training provided by the school.

“I think the training that they participated in, that they took seriously and that they exercised, paid off that day, and resulted in lives saved,” he said.

SSAS Principal Tara Tahmosh-Newell said the two officials were present to inspire attendees and provide an understanding of what actions people can take in a worst-case scenario.

“Nashville successfully handled a worst nightmare event for a school, as well as it could be handled,” she said. “I don’t want our teachers, our students, living in fear.”

Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences Principal Tara Tahmosh-Newell, Commander Steven Bowers of the School Safety Division in Nashville, Commander Scott Byrd of the Special Operations Division in Nashville, and Sarasota Military Academy Colonel Christina Bowman.

Photo by Ian Swaby

Tahmosh-Newell said as one of two schools located in the downtown area, along with Sarasota Military Academy, SSAS faces unique risks. While the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department is just a mile away, staff and police need to be on the same page, she said.

The speech focused on the Citizen Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) system, a project by Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training at Texas State University built around its Avoid, Deny, Defend strategy.

Bowers said the department takes the stance that “hiding and hoping” is not a plan. Among the topics discussed was the importance of overcoming denial when a sight or sound such as gunfire is observed in order to move onto the phases of deliberation and decisive movement. 

“Whatever your school or organization, you are the expert,” Bowers said. “When you hear or see something out of place, it is important to take action.”

Among other topics discussed was the “deny” aspect of the CRASE training, which includes the placing of barricades (the more and heavier, the better), using ropes to secure outward opening doors and placing door stoppers.  

When confronted with an active shooter situation, people may need to act to defend themselves, the officials said, by positioning themselves appropriately and seizing the weapon. Byrd said those involved in an incident must engage in a “survivor mindset,” telling themselves that they will make it home to their families. 

“You are not helpless, and what you do matters,” he said.

He said when the police arrive, those present must be sure to cooperate with instructions while placing their hands up and showing their palms.

Sarasota Military Academy Colonel Christina Bowman called the speech “amazing.”

“It gets us into the mindset of doing everything we can to get home to our families while making sure the children get home too,” she said.

Tahmosh-Newell said the speech is not the only safety initiative at the school. She said it also follows all recommendations from Parkland High School, employs an extensive security system, and offers students four licensed mental health counselors, mindfulness mornings and an advisory force.

“We just want to ensure that (students) never feel alone, that they do feel important, and that they are loved and cared for,” she said.


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