Bryan Johnson, the superintendent of Hamilton County’s public school system, said Thursday night that in a recent informal poll of the system’s teachers, a full 70 percent were opposed to the idea of arming certain staff and faculty in an effort to deter mass shooting. He also added that he, speaking as Bryan Johnson instead of the superintendent, was opposed to the idea as well.
In a School Board work session that was scheduled to discuss next year’s budget it was virtually ignored.
School safety overshadowed all else, this after 16 students and one teacher were killed in a tragedy in Parkland, Fla., last month.
Assistant superintendent Christie Jordan said she had no idea how much money would be allocated from the state for school safety. Early indications are federal and state money will be used to upgrade protection in the coming month but to what degree has not been determined. Governor Bill Haslam has a committee currently studying the matter.
Hamilton County has already taken some emergency measures that include a Raptor Identification system for $113,000 after school board chairman Steve Highlander made an executive decision to have a device installed at all 75 public schools by the middle of next month. At some schools the machine is already operational. HCDE was already in the process of installed 4,800 telephones in every classroom and updating security cameras.
Rhonda Thurman, board member, insisted an important conversation must begin on whether to allow safe guns in schools, noting that in the Stonybrook shooting a child died every 17 seconds. She also claimed that 98 percent of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones.
Supt. Johnson said, “At one time the safest places where churches and schools, but now it seems just the opposite.”
Ms. Thurman made a strong opening argument to include safe guns but most of the rest of the nine-person panel did not go along.
David Testerman noted school shootings are a national problem and urged HCDE to stay in the forefront. He said he is hesitant to make any decisions with President Trump calling for guns in the schools, a state committee studying what to suggest, and the next county School Board meeting not for two more weeks.
Some 113 HCDE employees – including nine administrators -- have indicated they will retire at the end of this school year, their decision bolstered by a bonus program.
Officials said a new tobacco policy will ticket any students who smoke. This includes all forms of smokeless tobacco and vapor smoking.
It was also announced that by FY2020-21 the HCDE will move to a “zero base” style of accounting.
Five of the School Board’s nine seats will be available in the August election. Chairman Steve Highlander in District 9 and Joe Smith in District 3 have not been challenged thus far. But of those who have picked up petitions from the Hamilton County Election Commission, Karitsa Mosely will be joined in the race for the District 5 chair by Ann Jones Pierre while longtime member Testerman will face Tucker McClendon in District 8. Joe Galloway has indicated he will not run for re-election in District 6 where there are three challengers: Michael Henry, Jenny Hill, and James Pope.