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School safety discussed at County Commission

The main portion of the April meeting of the Madison County Commission Monday night centered on school safety.

In the wake of the shooting at Covenant Christian School three weeks earlier in Nashville that left six people dead including three students, County Mayor A.J. Massey invited Jackson-Madison County Schools’ Tim Gilmer, the district director of operations, to discuss with the Commission safety in schools.

“I was asked by a reporter a day or two after the Covenant shooting what changes we were making in reaction to the shooting,” Gilmer said to the Commission. “My response to that was if we’re having to change what we do at this point, then we’re not doing it correctly if we’re waiting to respond.”

He said Superintendent Marlon King’s top priority for the district is safety for all students, faculty, staff and all other stakeholders on all campuses within the district.

The County purchased 169 metal detectors for all schools last year, and safety protocols on each campus have been standardized across the district.

Every school has gone through active shooter training, and they’ve made available “Where’s my bus,” which is a mobile device app through which parents can track their children’s location if they ride a bus.

There’s another app available for teachers that allows them to communicate with first responders in urgent situations more quickly instead of relaying messages through a 9-1-1 operator.

The topic of school resource officers came up. Gilmer said there are 13 SROs employed by the Sheriff’s Office that work in schools. There are 26 schools in JMCSS, and the rest of the schools have either a member of the district safety team on campus or the district has contracted with local security firm Maxx Guard to make sure there’s a safety officer at every school.

Commissioner Juanita Jones asked why there aren’t SROs at Parkview Prep and Jackson Central-Merry, which led to a discussion of how which schools get SROs and which ones get Maxx Guard is determined.

King said they have a security officer on every campus.

That is when Sheriff Julian Wiser spoke up and said his preference is to have an SRO in every school because they would all have the same training and resources.

“If there’s a private citizen doing security at a school, I don’t know if they’re former military or former law enforcement and to what level they were trained,” Wiser said. “And our guys have more resources available that others won’t have access to.”

Wiser referenced a presentation that was made to the Commission in June of 2022 in response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas the previous month in which they were told SROs for the entire district would cost about $2 million.

“I think since there are a number of new Commissioners who’ve been elected since then that they need to hear that presentation again,” Wiser said.

Mike Bryant suggested if Gov. Bill Lee’s bill passes that requires an SRO in every public school that would create a better situation because communication among security officers from three different entities could be problematic as opposed to all schools being staffed with SROs all from the Sheriff’s Office.

Mike Taylor also mentioned that JMCSS asked for the 169 metal detectors they received last year. To his knowledge, he can’t remember being asked for more SROs.

Claudell Brown said he appreciates the fact that to simply be able to get to the students in the school, anyone from the outside have to go through more locked doors now to get there.

“They’ve even got more locked doors at the Central Office, and there are no students there,” Brown said. “So if that building is locked that securely, I know the kids are kept safe too.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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