KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Over the past decade, schools across the country have gotten safer, according to data from the U.S. Dept. of Education. Between 2009 and 2020, rates of violence, theft, bullying and sexual harassment at elementary and secondary schools have declined.
However, it may not always feel that way. Many parents in East Tennessee have valid concerns about their children's safety on school property.
Knox County School Board members are tasked with recommending and reviewing policies to ensure kids are safe at school.
The newest board members assumed their seats in September. Rev. John Butler, Katherine Bike and Steve Triplett represent districts one, four and seven respectively.
Butler said he believes "internal" and "external" measures play a role in keeping kids safe.
"When I look at school safety, we look at school safety for students, staff, teachers, administrators, support staff and any other visitors who may come in," Butler explained.
He said ultimately, it's the superintendent's responsibility to set security policies and procedures across the district. From there, Butler believes every school principal and staff should ensure those protocols are implemented.
"So the principal has a safety plan, and then also working with the school security officers and school resource officers," Butler added.
In August, Knox County Schools announced new security measures ahead of the 2022-23 school year. In addition to recruiting military veterans as school security officers, the "Safe Schools, Safe Students" initiative includes:
- An anonymous tip line monitored seven days a week
- Upgraded body cameras for school security officers
- An integrated visitor screening system
- Upgraded video surveillance systems
Bike said she believes early intervention plays a big role in keeping students safe.
"There are a lot of kids that end up having behavioral issues because they were lost somewhere and didn't get what they needed a little bit earlier on," Bike said.
Butler and Bike said bullying is also one of the top concerns for parents across the county.
"We have to look at the big picture and say, 'How do we stop bullying not just at school, but how do we stop bullying everywhere?'" Butler said. He encourages families to stand up to bullying by always reporting it.
Butler and Bike said they believe coming together as a community is critical in addressing the issue.
"I think that there's been a lot of divisiveness in the last couple of years on several different topics, and it can't fall just on the schools," Bike added. "It's going to have to fall on our communities and our community coming together to actually talk about these hard subjects."
Triplett declined an interview with WBIR but said he is confident in the Chief of School Security and his department. Jason Periard was appointed as Knox County's Chief of School Security in August of 2021.