Nashville shooting highlights safety at private schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – An alarm sounded and lights flashed as a heavily armed assailant roamed the halls of the Covenant School.

Surveillance footage of Monday’s shooting at the private Christian school in Nashville showed many familiar security measures, including the double set of locked glass doors the killer passed through before killing three children and three school employees. school.

“It’s almost impossible to stop someone with an AR-17 from coming through the door,” said George Grant, an official at the Nashville rectory, who is linked to the school. Grant said the presbytery does not have a formal safety program for its churches and schools, but members have worked together to share best practices and improve safety.

In the United States, private schools generally do not face as many requirements as public schools when it comes to developing safety plans. In Tennessee, laws requiring schools to develop and submit safety plans do not apply to private schools, said a statement emailed by the state Department of Education.

Private schools sometimes do not have access to government programs to enhance security, although private schools in some states are eligible for public funds to enhance security with personnel, equipment, and technology. Some federal grants are also available to private schools for safety assistance.

Private schools typically don’t have access to the police that many public schools have assigned to their campuses, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. He said some private schools have managed to hire recently retired officers.

“I imagine after this horrific situation in Nashville, there might be more attempts by private schools to try to not only increase security, but also to get school resource officers.”

Yet amid widespread concerns about mass shootings, experts say private schools have invested in the same way public schools have in preventing violence.

Private schools were among the institutions that invested the most in security following the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Today, private schools have some of the highest paid security specialists, including retired federal agents, said Michael Dorn, who has helped assess security at thousands of schools as a as Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center.

Safety protocols for private schools are similar to those for public schools, but are more tailored to each school’s location and circumstances, said Myra McGovern of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Security such as metal detectors may not be as visible in private schools, which also have considerations such as boarding and, in some cases, children of heads of state to care for, he said. she declared.

“Attention to safety is similar, but how it manifests may be different,” McGovern said.

The quality of security plans for private schools also varies widely, as it does for public schools, Dorn said.

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

In Tennessee, an executive order last year from Governor Bill Lee on school safety measures ordered the state to report on the use of armed guards in nonpublic schools and to assess their need for active shooter training.

Most US school systems conduct active shooter and lockdown training, and the Nashville school had actually undergone active shooter training in 2022, which prevented further casualties in Monday’s shooting. said city police spokesman Brooke Reese.

Private or not, shootings are more common in middle and high schools than in elementary schools like Covenant, which are less likely to have security guards assigned. Educators are also concerned about disrupting young learners with tougher safety measures.

The Covenant School has approximately 200 students from kindergarten through sixth grade. The Covenant Presbyterian School and Church is connected to the Nashville Presbytery, which includes congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America, throughout central Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky.

“Over the past few years most of our churches have gone through training and really looked at their security arrangements,” said Grant, the former immediate moderator of the Nashville Presbytery. “It’s not kind of an official presbytery-wide initiative, but it’s just kind of a relationship thing.”

Grant said the Franklin Classical School, a school under the spiritual supervision of his church, Franklin Presbyterian Parish, Tennessee, has lockdown procedures and safety codes in place. The school always has a former policeman on site when school is in session. It is unknown if the Covenant School had a security guard.

Grant said his church’s security team had called for a review of security protocols and had already scheduled training for the week after Easter.

“It’s just a good reminder that we live in a broken and fallen world,” he said. “And we have to be vigilant to take care of each other as best we can.”

___ Ma reported from Washington, DC Associated Press writers Jonathan Mattise in Nashville and Michael Melia in Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.

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