Mayor, councilwoman clash over Oak Ridge school security

2:44 AM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
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(WBIR - Oak Ridge) The mayor of Oak Ridge is refuting allegations made by a city councilwoman about the state of security in their local schools.

First-term councilwoman Trina Boughn went public with her concerns in an editorial published last week in The Oak Ridger newspaper. In the article she alleged that the department had developed a "culture of terror."

Boughn says her concerns began last November when she was running her campaign.

She says she consistently heard from from potential constituents about school security worries.

"You've got students who are terrified to go to school, who are terrified of students, who to some extent are terrified of certain administrators," said Boughn.

For example, she said constituents reported to her concerns about the openness and accessibility of the high school campus. She also said there were expelled students would wind up back on campus.

"I couldn't at that time discern if it was anything more than what normal goes on within a school district," said Baughn during an interview with 10News on Monday.

Baughn says the experience prompted her to get in touch with the city's top law enforcement official, Chief Jim Akagi. She says what she heard confirmed her concerns.

"He went on to share with me all of the obstacles that he and the police department were facing with the school administration," said Boughn. "I was in shock."

She says after tragedy struck in Sandy Hook, Connecticut when a gunman opened fire in an elementary school killing 20 children and six adults, she began a renewed focus on school security.

"Of course the community was questioning how secure are our schools? We quickly found out, they weren't," said Boughn.

Police Chief Akagi submitted a memo dated May 9, 2013 to city council and the city manager outlining his issues with security and the lack of cooperation from the school system.

In the memo the chief describes a climate where school officials appear to prefer to handle potentially criminal behavior within the system, rather than working with police.

"The most important concept must be that criminal investigations take precedence over ORS administrative polices and procedures," wrote the chief.

He went on to say that in some instances the staff "neglected to report potential crimes to ORPD in a timely manner, or in some cases, at all."

The chief also said he would like more cooperation from the district.

"ORS staff has been reluctant at best, and in some instances obstructive in their interaction with ORPD personnel," wrote the chief.

In the same memo the city manager also wrote of a circumstance where police requested information about a disciplinary incident to investigate the possibility of charges but "info was denied."

In another note, City Manger Mark Watson described an altercation where two sets of parents assaulted one another at the school, before turning on the school resource officer. He concluded "no assistance provided by school officials."

"In some cases, they're harming when they're interfering with investigations," said Boughn.

Chief Akagi told 10News he will not be commenting on the story but did confirm he and the newly hired superintendent have an appointment on Wednesday to discuss school security.

However, Mayor Beehan has chosen to speak publicly-- something he maintains Boughn never should have done.

"There's kinds of things you don't publicly talk about," said Beehan, citing the sensitive nature of school security.

While Beehan said his main concern will always be the safety and education of Oak Ridge's students, he also expressed a great deal of concern about the damage Boughn's allegations have done to the prestigious system's reputation.

"I'm as much concerned about the image and the paint brush that's been thrown on our schools. I know this safety issue will be handled," said Beehan who then questioned whether the system's reputation can be repaired as easily.

"When people go to Google Oak Ridge Schools, what's going to come up?" asked Beehan.

During his speech before a crowd, who greeted his remarks with applause, Beehan did not address the allegations laid out in the chief's memo.

He told the crowd that Boughn's criticism of the system as being enveloped in a "culture of terror," was not "in his estimation based on credible information."

When asked by 10News after the speech, Beehan did not deny the validity of any of the information presented in the chief's memo. He said his reference to Boughn's lack of credibility was in response to her allegations that students were afraid and the system is unsafe.

"I'm not denying that there wasn't a problem. I'm telling you it was being fixed," said Beehan. "This was a platform to jump off and attack the schools."

The "fix" Beehan referred to is a 'memorandum of understanding' he says is currently in the works between school administrators and police.

The MOU would outline their working relationship and how security concerns should be handled. He also told 10News there is a new protocol in place for how to handle potentially criminal behavior on campus, but later called the protocol a "work in progress."

Beehan told the crowd that his two sons had graduated from Oak Ridge High School, where the press conference was held, and he was so confident in the security he would enroll them again.

Both the school board chairman and the system's superintendent were also in attendance.

With about two weeks under his belt, the newly-hired Dr. Bruce Borchers was reticent about the issue.

He did pledge improvement in any field where it was warranted. He also said he is looking forward to communicating with Chief Akagi on Wednesday.

"We want to involve our police in anything that would involve any type of laws being broken," said Bourchers.

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