An Open Letter on Safety from KCS

Published on March 8, 2018 at 2:55 p.m.

The recent tragic event in Parkland, Florida has once again elevated a national discussion on school and student safety, as communities all across America consider how to ensure their children are provided the most secure educational environment possible.  That conversation has also been occurring in Kingsport, with educators, students, parents, and other stakeholders reflecting on the tragedy and its impact on our own schools and families. Understandably, it is an emotional conversation that causes us all to reevaluate our practices and procedures, while at the same time pausing to celebrate the gift that is our community’s children.

No child should ever attend school in fear.  Kingsport City Schools has taken many steps over the years since the tragic events at Columbine High School in 1999 to create facilities and processes that reflect our community’s commitment to safe school environments.  It has been a collaborative effort throughout, with the Kingsport Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Services, independent safety consultants, educators, administrators, students, and other educational stakeholders involved in the process.  The results of these efforts are found in the wide range of safety structures and protocols currently in place, which are continually reviewed to identify and address areas of improvement. This proactive and positive approach is reflective of who we are as a district and what we strive to be as an educational community.

To provide a direct law enforcement and deterrent presence, KCS employs four School Resource Officers who serve full-time in our schools, including two SROs at Dobyns-Bennett High School.  These Kingsport Police Department officers are available to not only respond to incidents, but also to investigate and proactively prevent possible situations from occurring.  A KPD presence is a constant in all of our schools, as thousands of random patrol walkthroughs take place annually.  For almost two decades, law enforcement, fire, ambulance, and 911 responders have worked with schools to facilitate staff tabletop exercises related to emergency response training.  Current support now involves active shooter trainings with all schools on an annual basis.

Schools have many safety processes and active plans in place to help protect students and staff.  All schools have established and regularly review an emergency response plan that outlines action steps to be taken in a crisis situation.  In addition to strategies occurring behind the scenes, visible safety measures include use of special software that scans the identification of all school visitors, allowing staff to identify possible risks.  In recent years, schools have been equipped with secure front entrances that require staff approval or electronic access to enter. It is the expectation that all exterior and interior classroom doors are locked at all times.  Hundreds of security cameras are also in use across the district, allowing administrators and SROs to monitor and investigate safety issues as they occur.

Communication with our community is also a vital aspect of our ongoing safety efforts.  The district has established an extensive emergency communications plan that systematically outlines both internal and external steps to be taken in a crisis situation.  These include methods to communicate via email, phone, text, and social media. In addition to ongoing person-to-person conversations, processes have been put in place to listen to our community through methods such as social media and the QuickTip technology.  This provides an anonymous option and a direct link to share safety-related information with administration and law enforcement and is available to all students via the web and on scannable posters located in our middle and high schools. All information is investigated.  This type of two-way communication is vital and reflects our belief system that it is up to all of us to be aware of unusual comments or behaviors and to report them to authorities when concerns arise.

In the coming days and weeks, KCS educators look forward to continuing productive and collaborative safety conversations with students and community members.  By working together in this effort, we can ensure the most productive and meaningful result as we seek to honor the victims of Parkland and other school tragedies and strive to provide the safest possible environment for our children to learn and grow.