Knox County Schools on Thursday highlighted new security measures that are being implemented to enhance school safety in the 2023-24 academic year, as part of the district’s ongoing “Safe Schools, Safe Students” initiative.
At a news conference, Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk and Security Department Chief Jason Periard outlined the initiative’s three principal strategies to keep schools safe:
- Staffing highly trained, armed officers in every school;
- Individualizing safety plans to meet the specific needs of each and every school; and
- Partnering with law enforcement agencies, first responders, and the greater Knox County community to ensure every threat is taken seriously.
This year, the district is focused on continuing to improve in these areas by:
- Engaging in proactive training exercises with law enforcement partners;
- Investing in new and enhanced security measures; and
- Recommitting to the use of random weapon searches to prevent and deter threats to our schools.
“We continue to believe that these are the right strategies to keep our students and staff safe; however, we are committed to doing everything we can to improve security measures at all our schools,” Dr. Rysewyk said. “As we prepare for the start of the new year, we have already implemented several steps to ensure that we are staying on the cutting edge of school security.”
Among the steps that KCS has already taken to prepare for a safe and secure school year are:
- Investing more than $2.4 million in districtwide upgrades to school security infrastructure, including perimeter fencing enhancements and upgrading every school with security window film;
- Investing in salaries for SSOs with an unprecedented raise of 12%;
- Recommitting to the use of random weapons searches at schools;
- Engaging in a half-day active-shooter exercise with law enforcement and emergency response agencies, including the FBI, KCSO, and KPD;
- Hosting joint training exercises with KPD and KCSO at two district high schools this week; and
- Participating in a digital security tabletop exercise with IT and district leaders.
KCS also remains committed to providing School Security Officers in every school. A total of 11 SSO’s graduated from the district’s training academy this summer, bringing the total number of officers to 112.
Earlier this year, KCS was one of 15 organizations to receive the 2023 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the highest U.S. government honor to employers for support of National Guard
and Reserve employees. Security chief Jason Periard said the district continues to seek SSO candidates with a passion for protecting schools, including reservists and veterans.
“The mission of the security department is an essential part of our Safe Schools, Safe Students initiative,” said Periard. “I am grateful for every SSO who has answered this call to service, and for the many ways our community shows support for these officers.”
In addition to SSO’s, School Resource Officers from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and Knoxville Police Department provide an additional security presence at many district schools.
“Our deputies are proud to be part of the security mission of Knox County Schools,” said Sheriff Tom Spangler. “We are grateful for the strong working relationship we have built with Chief Periard and his team, and we look forward to a new school year.”
“Providing a safe learning environment at KCS schools is an important part of our work,” said Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel. “We appreciate our strong partnership with Knox County School Security and look forward to being a part of the collaborative efforts to keep schools safe.”
For more information, visit knoxschools.org/safeschools.