How States are Working to Improve School Safety After the Tragedy in Tennessee

by Ethan Kim
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This week, a shooting at an elementary school in Tennessee caused three 9-year-olds and three adults to lose their lives. As a result, laws across the United States are now being passed to help keep students safe in schools.

Lawmakers from different states are proposing laws that need schools to buy special technology, such as panic buttons and cameras. Most parties support them because they think this will help make schools safer, instead of needing new gun control laws. However, some people think it would be better and cheaper to just teach teachers how to be safe during an emergency situation. Plus, the new tech might require additional money for upgrades or maintenance.

States like Oregon, Missouri and Tennessee are trying to keep schools safe. William Lamberth, the Republican House Majority Leader in Tennessee, was asked if schools will need to become ‘fortresses’ (safer places) to keep kids safe and he said ‘yes’. He added that he doesn’t care if they have to park a tank outside a school.

Democrats in the state are wanting stricter gun control, but they are now also supporting the safety measures that Republicans have proposed.

In Oregon, the state house passed a bill that will require schools to let parents know if there is any threat or danger as soon as possible. Two Democratic lawmakers also introduced another bill that would make sure all public school classrooms have special buttons that when pressed will contact the police or emergency services for help.

If it passes, a new law in Oregon will be created and make it the fourth US state (with Florida, New Jersey and New York) to have this kind safety alert system. Other states are thinking about making these laws too. “We know that emergency moments require quick action – it can mean the difference between life and death,” said Emerson Levy, one of the people who supports this new law. Some schools already started to use better security measures even though they don’t have this law yet.

The Clark County School District in Las Vegas is one of the country’s biggest school districts. They recently started using a badge system called CrisisAlert which can be worn on the neck. When pressed, they can request help or lock down the entire school.

Olathe Public Schools, located near Kansas City and the second biggest school district in the state, has implemented a special program called CrisisAlert. Even though it hasn’t been used for an active shooter situation yet, according to Jim McMullen from the Safety Services Department (and Middle School Education), people at the school use it daily with stuff like student fights or medical emergencies.

Today, we used a special device when one of our students became unconscious. Instead of leaving them alone to go and call for help, the staff member only needed to press their button three times and they had help come quickly. Everyone was happy with how it made them feel safer and more powerful.

This kind of ‘panic alert’ technology became popular after a really scary shooting happened in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

After losing her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, in a mass shooting, Lori Alhadeff started the group called Make Our Schools Safe. She wants schools to have panic buttons so that help can come quickly when needed.

Lori Kitaygorodsky, the spokesperson for this group, said that it is important to be prepared because tragedies like this can happen any time and anywhere. She also argued that there’s nothing wrong by being prepared for such situations.

Some states, led by Republicans, are giving money to help schools pay for things like Panic Buttons. Installing a Panic Button System from Centegix, an Atlanta-based company, costs around $8,000 per campus and is usually part of a 3-5 year plan.

The number of schools using CrisisAlert increased rapidly in a single year – from 2021 to 2022. In the Fall 2022 semester, they sent out an impressive 50,000 alerts – which was twice as much as the previous year! This information comes directly from Stacy Meyer, a Vice President of Marketing, in an email.

Last May, there was a very tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas at Robb Elementary School where 19 children and two teachers were killed. The state officials then decided to put aside $105 million for special programs related to school safety and mental health. This money will go into buying bullet-proof shields for school police and also panic-alert technology which will cost around $17 million.

The Missouri House said yes to a state budget for 2024 that includes $50 million to help schools be safer. This money is in addition to the $20 million the government already provides. Schools can use this money to buy equipment designed to make them more secure, such as locks on the doors, intercoms, and cameras.

When schools get grants, they can use the money to buy technology. But Ken Trump from National School Safety and Security Services says sometimes the items like security cameras don’t work after they’re bought because there’s not enough money to repair, replace, and maintain them. He’s even seen some of these cameras, which aren’t being used anymore, in a closet piled up like dust!

The speaker mentioned that the right things are not being done to keep people safe, like proper training for staff and keeping doors closed. He said the focus should be on paying attention to what’s going on around us, recognizing patterns, and also making smart choices when we’re stressed.

Claire Rush works for an important project called the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a special program that hires journalists to focus on stories that are not often talked about.

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