What will students find when they return to Austin-East Magnet High School on Wednesday?
- Each person will be screened with a hand-held metal detector upon entering the school, and this will continue through the school year
- Exterior doors will be locked and have been armed with alarms so the office is notified if the door opens
- Additional security personnel will be stationed outside.
Russ Oaks, chief operating officer for KCS, outlined security procedures at Monday’s workshop of Knox County Commission. He said A-E parents had been notified earlier Monday.
The school system has invested “tens of millions of dollars in security,” he said. “It’s never complete and it’s never enough.”
Gus Paidousis, KCS security chief, and Superintendent Bob Thomas also spoke. Paidousis was hired in 2013. He served in the Knoxville Police Department for more than 30 years, retiring as deputy chief of the criminal investigation division. Learn more about his department here.
Oaks said the security team reviews every site every day, constantly working with local law enforcement to investigate all threats. Knox County Schools has 105 uniformed and armed security officers (SRO) for 88 campuses. Each undergoes a psychological evaluation and 10 weeks of training before starting work. In addition, each gets at least 40 hours of training annually.
KCS has over 6,000 cameras supported by motion detectors. Video is archived, he said. Doors are locked when school is in session and visitors have to be “buzzed in.” KCS is upgrading all key and lock systems with an eye toward more proximity cards and fewer keys.
Paidousis said an assessment was done after Stanley Freeman Jr. was shot and killed near the school on Feb. 12. “We increased visibility of both SROs and KPD.”
Larsen Jay interrupted the speakers to ask, “Why don’t we have metal detectors at schools?”
Oaks said metal detectors are a tool but they are not fail-safe. “And we’re trying to bring a large number of people (inside) in a limited amount of time.”
Paidousis said he’s meeting with vendors to look at a new product.
Kyle Ward said better security must start immediately.
Terry Hill, who formerly served on the school board, said the more KCS “clamps down, the more we hear from parents” who don’t like the harsher treatment. She said spending on fences, cameras and SROs takes funds away from academics.
Carson Dailey said South-Doyle High School has a 77-acre campus and eight entrances. That’s hard to guard.
Dr. Dasha Lundy got the last word. She said the poverty rate is 42 percent in the A-E school zone, and the area has actually declined during her lifetime. “We’ve got no healthy food; no businesses.” Residents don’t feel valued. And regarding the protestors, Lundy said: “They came because they’re tired. And they are tired because no one is listening.”
Constance Every, resident rabble-rouser, and six others were arrested for disrupting the commission meeting. Chair Larsen Jay quickly adjourned when Every triggered her bullhorn siren.
Gina Oster, current chair of the Sheriff’s Office Merit System Council, grew combative during her interview for reappointment on Monday. She bristled when Larsen Jay asked why the council voted against the advice of the county law director. She said attorney John Valliant disagreed. “Two lawyers, two opinions.”
Other candidates are Patti Bounds, who said she will “serve the men and women of the KCSO with impartiality and integrity,” and does not plan to seek reelection to the school board when her term ends next year; Christopher Manning, a retired law enforcement officer from California; and John Marshall, Gibbs resident and son of former KPD Chief Bob Marshall. The commission will vote Monday, April 26; the four-year term starts May 1.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.