Nashville Shooting Highlights Security At Private Schools

Tennessee’s NASHVILLE — A heavily armed intruder stalked the hallways of The Covenant School while an alarm sounded and lights flashed.

Several well-known security measures, including the double set of locked glass doors the shooter, fired their way through before killing three children and three school personnel, were visible in the surveillance tape of the attack Monday at the private Christian school in Nashville.

“It’s just next to impossible to stop someone with an AR-17 coming through the door,” George Grant, a leader with the school’s affiliated Nashville Presbytery, made the statement.

Grant stated that although the presbytery’s churches and schools lack a structured security policy, members have collaborated to share best practices and enhance safety.

Private schools in the United States typically do not have to comply with as many security plan development standards as public schools.

According to a statement sent via email from the state Department of Education, private schools are exempt from Tennessee statutes that mandate that schools create and submit safety plans.

Even though private schools are sometimes eligible for state funding to improve security with personnel, tools, and technology, government initiatives to do so are not always accessible to them. Private schools can also apply for government funding for security assistance.

According to Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, private schools typically do not have access to the police officers that many public schools have stationed on their campuses.

Nashville Shooting Highlights Security At Private Schools

Other private schools, he claimed, had made arrangements to engage recently retired cops.

“I would imagine after this horrific situation in Nashville that there may be more attempts by private schools to try to not only bolster security but to get school resource officers.”

Despite widespread worries about mass shootings, experts claim private schools have invested in violence prevention on par with public schools.

Private schools were among the organizations that made the most secure investments after the 2012 Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, which left 26 people dead.

According to Michael Dorn, the executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit school safety center, who has evaluated security at thousands of schools, private schools now employ some of the highest-paid security specialists, including former federal agents.

According to Myra McGovern of the National Association of Independent Schools, security procedures for private schools are comparable to those for public schools. Still, they are more specifically customized to the location and circumstances of each school.

Private schools, which also have to consider boarding students and, in some cases, the children of heads of state to look after, may not have security measures like metal detectors that are as obvious, she said.

“Attention to security is similar, but the way that it manifests is perhaps different,” McGovern said.

Like public schools, the quality of safety plans varies greatly for private schools, according to Dorn.

“We see schools that are pretty behind and some that are exceptional,” he said.

Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee issued an executive order on school safety measures last year that instructed the state to compile a report on the employment of armed guards in nonpublic schools and evaluate those institutions’ need for active-shooter training.

Most school districts in the United States practice lockdown and active shooter drills. The Nashville school had both in 2022, which, according to city police spokesperson Brooke Reese, averted additional casualties from the incident on Monday.

Private or not, Covenant Elementary School is less likely to have designated security personnel than middle and high schools, where shootings are more common. Also, educators are concerned about upsetting young students with more intrusive security measures.

From preschool through sixth grade, there are roughly 200 children enrolled in the Covenant School.

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The Nashville Presbytery, which includes churches in the Presbyterian Church in America across Middle Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky, is affiliated with the university and the Covenant Presbyterian Church.

“Over the last several years, most of our churches have undergone training and have really scrutinized their security arrangements,” said Grant, the immediate past moderator for the Nashville Presbytery.

“It’s not an official sort of presbytery-wide initiative, but it has just sort of grown out of relationships.”

Grant said lockdown procedures and security codes are in place at Franklin Classical School, a facility under the spiritual direction of his church, Parish Presbyterian Church, in Franklin, Tennessee.

When classes are in session, a former police officer is always present. The existence of a security guard at The Covenant School is unknown.

According to Grant, the security team at his church has requested a review of security procedures and has already scheduled training for the week following Easter.

“This is just a good reminder that we live in a broken, fallen world,” he said. “And we need to be vigilant to care for one another as best we can.”

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