Knox County Schools security chief Gus Paidousis, guest speaker at Town Hall East Monday night, said that a bill under consideration in the state Legislature this year could result in 25-30 armed teachers in classrooms of the state’s larger high schools. He doesn’t think much of the idea.
“We want our teachers to teach,” he said. “We keep our doors locked, our cameras running and we control visitors.”
The bill could allow one teacher per 75 students to carry a concealed handgun after logging at least 40 hours of instruction by the Peace Officers Standards Training Commission (POST) plus 16 hours per year of continuing instruction by a local law enforcement agency. Representatives of Gov. Bill Haslam, the state sheriff’s association and the POST commission also oppose the bill.
Paidousis came to KCS in 2013 from the Knoxville Police Department, where he was an assistant chief and served more than 30 years.
“I loved it,” he said. “I miss the police department every single day.”
But he said he loves his present job, too, and incorporates much of what he learned at KPD into the security division, which has 103 armed, bonded security officers – enough for one in each of the county’s 90 schools. He said school security maintains a close working relationship with local law enforcement.
“Our primary role is to protect children – to develop appropriate, healthy relationships with those children. We are the good guys, and we do not, as a rule, become a part of or get involved in school discipline, unless it’s something catastrophic.
Paidousis said the confusion surrounding a Feb. 15 gun scare at Holston Middle School has been settled. The incident was triggered after a student allegedly threatened to bring a gun to school the next day and there were missteps in following KCS reporting procedure. The situation was aggravated because it happened the day after a gun-wielding former student in Parkland, Florida, massacred 17 students and school personnel.
“There was a threat, and maybe we didn’t take some of the appropriate steps,” Paidousis said, explaining that the police officer who attempted to get hold of him to inform him of the situation called the wrong number.
“The police officer, a young sergeant who is a great guy, tried to call me on 740-3765 – the number I had at the police department,” he said.
Then a dispatcher attempted to call Paidousis’ second-in-command, Major Greg Pinkston.
“The major didn’t hear his phone,” Paidousis said.
The Text-a-Tip number (which allows anonymous tipsters to report impending crimes) was down from Feb. 6-14, which may have added to the confusion.
Paidousis concedes that there are better-paying jobs than school security officers, but he said the work is rewarding, and that his department is always looking for good people.
“You can do so much more beyond the security mission – sit in cafeteria and help open a kid’s milk and sit and talk. We recognize that there’s a huge value in getting to know a 6-year-old kid that can pay dividends the kid’s whole life.”