Schools continue to evaluate safety measures


Katie Lyttle

SAFETY FIRST. Student Resource Officer Mike Campbell directs traffic before school starts. The SRO position is one of several ways the school system works to keep students safe.

By Micah Maynard, John Sevier Middle School

School safety: a common topic among students, parents, teachers, and even politicians. Teachers, students, police, and government officials have been debating new safety procedures to keep students safe in schools.

Holly Flora, the principal at Sevier Middle, makes sure that the school is safe and working properly.

“We work very hard to ensure that we are up to date on safety drills, procedures and that we have the very best protective equipment to ensure student safety,” she said. “We have a district which prioritizes safety and works very closely with the Kingsport Police Department.”

Many in the community agree that Sevier is a safe place for students. Mike Campbell, the School Resource Officer at Sevier, plays a critical role in keeping students and staff safe in case of an emergency.

“Every month we have fire safety drills, we have evacuation drills, anything pertaining to safety,” Campbell said. “The classrooms are locked. There is no unlocked entrance into the school.”

Some students feel safer because of the SRO’s presence.

“[I feel safer] because there is an SRO officer,” said Mason Tribble, an eighth grade student.

SROs are put in place to help protect students in case of a serious accident or dangerous emergency.

“If we were to have an active shooter, I’m the first line of defense,” Campbell said. “I would immediately confront the active shooter. I won’t be waiting for help.”

Other than the SRO, there are many other precautions that have been put in place to maintain the safety of students.

“We have interior and exterior cameras all over the school,” Campbell said. “And, of course, we are fortunate enough to have an SRO. We’re not security guards. We are armed police officers.”

Safety drills are another large part of school safety.

“We have regular drills that we record and report to ensure that we are regularly practicing what to do at different times of the day in case of an emergency,” Flora said.

Students are also closely monitored at all times to maintain their safety.

“It doesn’t always have to be about an active shooter,” Campbell said “We have fire drills, we have tornado drills, we have evacuation drills. All of those drills and practices that we put in place monthly are a big benefit, so that everybody knows what to do in case of an emergency.”

Teachers are supposed keep their classroom doors locked, yet some students feel this is not always the case.

“I think I feel more safe than unsafe,” Olivia Adinolfi, an eighth grade student, said. “During class, if teachers have their door open or unlocked, I feel unsafe.”

Another problem is that students can turn violent.

“I am most concerned about student mental health,” Flora said. “Often, when it comes to violence, there is trauma and unresolved issues that present themselves in unhealthy outcomes. If we can work to support students early and get students help, I hope that school violence would decrease.”

This and many other reasons serve as strong motivation to keep schools secure. Of course, Sevier is always updating its technology and safety procedures. In addition, the police force is always alert and ready to report to a school in case of an emergency.

“The camera system, the security system, everything is continuously upgrading,” Campbell said. “Hopefully by the new school year, we’ll have a whole new camera system within the school.”

The police department is also heavily involved in providing other means of support.

“Each year, our SROs and KPD have meetings with our school staff to provide simulations of emergencies so that our staff is prepared and practices what to do in case of an emergency,” Flora said.

Police are also attentive and aware of any trouble in a school.

“Through Kingsport City Schools, they’ve hired some additional School Resource Officers that are actually floaters, they’re not stationed in one particular school,” Campbell said. “If I needed an extra SRO to help me with a situation, I can get on the radio and ask for an extra SRO, and he would be here in a matter of minutes.”

Students also have ideas on how Sevier’s safety could be improved.

“Make all outside windows bullet proof,” Tribble said.

He believes that this could add more protection, as a shooter or other dangerous person could not gain entrance. There are also many ways that students can help to prevent accidents or dangerous situations.

“The best advice I have would be that students should always report anything that they find suspicious or concerning,” Flora said. “Often, middle school students are afraid to ‘snitch’ on a friend and they fear ‘getting a friend into trouble.’ Safety is a top priority and we would always rather be safe than sorry. We work very hard to protect student anonymity in these cases.”

Campbell agreed.

“If you see something, say something,” he said.

Flora feels very fortunate to work for Kingsport City Schools.

“SRO presence is a huge support in terms of safety,” she said. “I hope we continue to fund SRO positions across the city and I feel very lucky to be in a town like Kingsport, whose police department is as supportive as they are to our schools.”

This story was originally published on The Sequoyah Scribe on October 2, 2019.