BLOUNTVILLE — Director of Sullivan County Schools Jubal Yennie unveiled plans Tuesday for a school security task force, which he said will consider all options for increasing security before making formal recommendations to the Sullivan County Board of Education.
Yennie first discussed the plans with the Sullivan County Commission’s Education Committee during a called meeting Tuesday morning, at the behest of that group’s chairman, Commissioner John Gardner.
The committee gave Yennie its full support, and Gardner later rose during the public comment portion of the full commission’s monthly meeting to introduce Yennie and the school security task force concept to the commission.
“The school board asked the central office staff to look at various options, including the use of school resource officers at each of the county public schools,” Yennie wrote in a letter dated Saturday and addressed to BOE Chairman Dan Wells and Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey.
Yennie said the task force will meet several times in the next few weeks, its membership made up of individuals with various areas of expertise.
The list shared with commissioners Tuesday included: principals Angie Buckles, Billy Miller and Jeff Hickham; Joe Davenport (school system maintenance); John Edens (security at Northeast State Community College); Keith Elton (sheriff’s office); Mark Moody (health department); Jim Perry (EMS); Jim Bean (EMA); Ty Boomershine (county commission); Jack Bales (BOE); and Evelyn Rafalowski (school system safety supervisor).
Yennie said he and others will attend the Tennessee Department of Education’s “Security Summit” next week, and he said he expects that ultimately there will be state funding for new school security enhancements.
“I’ll know more next week,” Yennie said. “It’s a community issue. We’ll need everybody’s help. It’s not just schools.”
Yennie said the task force will delve into the federal “Now is the Time” report, which he said includes information on school resource officers and mental health issues — points of that report that have perhaps been overshadowed by the gun-control aspects it also includes.
“There are a lot of pieces to this thing,” Yennie said, promising the local task force would proceed swiftly, but cautiously. “We will gather as much information as we can. We’re not going to just do a lip review.”
County Commissioner Bryan Boyd said he was encouraged by Yennie’s presentation — because it sounded like a better approach than the federal “Now is the Time” report.
“All they did was dust off the liberal wish list of gun control,” Boyd said. “And that’s why most of us didn’t get past the first part (to the SRO- and mental health-related content mentioned earlier by Yennie). It was so predictable, their response.”
After public comment ended during the full commission’s meeting, Don Reimer, of Shooters Edge in Piney Flats; Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell (retired); and Mike Lewis had a spot on the agenda and gave a lengthy presentation outlining several options they said could improve security at schools.
Reimer said they recently launched a business to provide security and have proposals under consideration by several private schools.
One of the options, which has garnered public attention, would train teachers or other school employees — on a volunteer basis — to go armed while at work.
After their presentation, Gardner asked Reimer how the county’s Board of Education had responded when the presentation was shown to them.
Reimer said they have not been to the BOE, thinking it best to come straight to the commission.
Gardner, Commissioner Dwight King and others thanked the group for sharing the information, but told them the proper first step would be the BOE.
Reimer said they’d be happy to work with the BOE or the task force Yennie described.
The school security and guns issue dominated public comment, with speakers voicing support for or against the full gamut: from SROs in every school, to arming teachers, to recruiting community volunteers willing to be trained to go armed on school campuses.