Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order on Monday to ensure working safety protocols at schools, and to evaluate training for law enforcement for handling active shooter scenarios, in a bid to fortify school security across the state after the recent mass shooting at a school in Texas in which 21 people were killed.
“Parents need to have full confidence that their children are safe at school, and thankfully, Tennessee has built a firm foundation with our practical approach to securing schools, recognizing crisis, and providing confidential reporting of any suspicious activity,” Lee, a Republican, said in a statement.
“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.”
For parents, the executive order (pdf) creates a “School Safety Resources and Engagement Guide” to provide parents with information about how to report suspicious or concerning activity to school administrators and local law enforcement. The guide would also help parents inquire about building security and compliance at their child’s school, and provides parents ways to access mental health resources for their child.
Lee in the order called on parents and the community to work with law enforcement to ensure simple practices, such as “ensuring a single point of entry and multiple points of exit, securing vestibules and other access points, and reporting suspicious activity.”
Tennessee state agencies will also provide more guidance to help local school districts implement current school safety law. Under the law, public schools are required each year to carry out a school security assessment and submit a safety plan to the state’s school safety center.
The guidance will include more frequent audits of local school security assessments and safety plans, and will also provide a set of “best practices” for school leaders to enhance the security of a building against an intruder.
Among a slew of other measures, the executive order will ensure that educators, school leaders, and staff will have additional training and educational materials no later than Aug. 1.
For law enforcement, the executive order directs the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance to “evaluate and assess law enforcement training standards” and to recommend improvements to existing training for active-shooter scenarios. The department must provide a report to the governor by July 1.
The executive order will also direct the same department to “review the use of armed security guards in non-public schools” and, with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, report to the governor regarding “the need for active-shooter training for armed guards.”
At a press conference on Monday, Lee was asked by reporters multiple times about the issue of gun laws and gun violence.
“There are a lot of conversations that are happening all across the country about laws that affect gun ownership and red flag laws, and waiting-period laws. And there will be those conversations all across the country. We’re not looking at gun restriction laws in my administration right now,” Lee said. “One thing to remember—criminals don’t follow laws. Criminals break laws. Whether they are a gun law, a drug law, criminals break laws. We can’t control what they do but we can control what we can control and that’s what we’re working on today.”
Separately, he said, “Certainly, gun violence is a serious problem in our country, and it has been a rising problem in our country.” He noted that gun violence is just one aspect of violent crime. “Crime is a problem,” he said.
When asked again about the administration’s actions on gun laws, he said: “We are not talking in our administration about gun laws, gun registries. We’re working on school safety, and what’s been laid out and what’s been laid out in this plan today.”
The May 24 Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, Texas, resulted in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers. Officials said an 18-year-old shooter entered the school via a back door that was unlocked.
Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arrendondo became the target of accusations that he was responsible for a delayed police response to the shooting, after it was revealed that officers, after having entered the building, waited about 45 minutes to breach the classroom where the shooter, as well as students and teachers, were.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said that Arrendondo held back officers from immediately breaching the classroom because he thought the situation was a barricaded suspect, not an active-shooter one.