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Connecticut school tragedy has local officials’ attention

Connecticut school tragedy has local officials’ attention
By CHRIS MENEES
& KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporters
Obion County Director of Schools David Huss spent the weekend tuned in to the news.
Like millions of parents nationwide, he was deeply troubled by Friday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
But he has added concern as a school system administrator.
“I have watched the news all weekend, trying to get every aspect of what happened,” he said.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., claimed the lives of 20 young students — all ages 6 or 7 — and six faculty members.
“I am bothered by this one because of the innocence of these boys and girls,” added Huss, a father whose family now includes two small children as well as older sons. “This has bothered me to no end, for several reasons.”
Huss said the Obion County School System has security measures in place similar to those which were in use at Sandy Hook, including magnetic door locks, visitors having to be “buzzed in” to gain access to school buildings and classroom doors being locked.
“Everything we do is for student safety,” he said.
Tabletop exercises are conducted and plans are examined on a regular basis for a wide variety of emergency situations in the county school system, with those plans also on file with the state Department of Education.
There are school resource officers — who are law enforcement officers with the Obion County Sheriff’s Department — at the Obion County School System’s two high schools with the aid of the sheriff’s department and grant funding.
Likewise, school resource officers — both Union City Police Department officers — are in place at the Union City School System’s high, middle and elementary school campuses.
“We have an emergency response plan in place, in the event of a weather-related incident or an intruder,” Union City Director of Schools Gary Houston told The Messenger this morning. “There are procedures in place.”
In addition to the school resource officers, Houston said there are video cameras positioned inside and outside at the city’s three schools.
“This morning, I’ve asked the principals to review our plans,” Houston said.
In light of the horrific incident in Connecticut Friday, Houston said he is also working on a message that will be sent out early this week to parents by way of the school system’s phone notification system.
“What happened in Newtown causes you to re-evaluate your plan,” he said. “I feel that we have taken measures to provide a safe and secure environment for our students, but we are still constantly updating our plan.”
He said he, along with other administrators, teachers, parents and law enforcement officials are constantly looking for ways to make improvements to the school system’s emergency response plan. Houston said providing a safe learning environment for students is the school system’s top priority.
Phillip H. White of Union City, a former Union City School Board chairman who later worked as the Tennessee School Boards Association director of risk management for a large percentage of the state’s public schools, said it has been almost 18 years since the first school shooting in Tennessee — in Giles County.
At the time, White was in his first year as director of risk management.
“My staff and I had already determined that our schools were not what would be called safe,” he said. “We had been implementing many different activities in the schools to make them safe. Giles County schools were a portion of the hundreds of schools that we were working with.”
The shooting at Richland High School in Lynnville, a small community in Giles County, occurred Nov. 15, 1995, when a 17-year-old senior killed one teacher and one student and seriously wounded another teacher, according to reports.
“While working with Giles County system personnel following the shootings, we were told that they had recently implemented many of the different activities that we had suggested and, due to that, many lives were spared,” White said.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at cmenees@ucmessenger.com; and Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com. Published in The Messenger 12.17.12

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