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Science Hill prohibits backpacks at stadium in midst of national school safety concerns

Brandon Paykamian • Aug 14, 2018 at 11:21 PM

Like school systems across the country, Science Hill High School is adopting new security rules in the midst of a national conversation centering on school safety after multiple school shootings in the past year.

On Monday, Science Hill High School Athletic Director Keith Turner announced new rules for fans attending Hilltoppers’ football games at Kermit Tipton Stadium ahead of their first home game against Ooltewah on Friday, Aug. 24. Among other things, the new rules include specific guidelines on what kinds of bags are allowed in the stadium.

Backpacks will no longer be allowed at games, and all other bags — such as baby bags and pocketbooks — will be searched by security before admittance. There will be designated lines for each search.

School safety has been a hot topic among both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the state and local school officials. Greg Wallace, Johnson City Schools’ supervisor of safety and mental health, said the rules implemented at the stadium are part of other moves to improve safety within the district.

“There was no state mandate that made us change our procedures. Those are things we are constantly evaluating,” Wallace said, adding that the bag rules are part of a national trend at school stadiums.

“We felt like it was time to follow those procedures.”

On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced the first-ever statewide assessment of school facilities and safety procedures will be fully completed by the end of the month. School security funding will now be available to school districts to address school security needs after the School Safety Working Group recommended a statewide review of school safety procedures and precautions in March.

The governor’s fiscal year 2019 budget, passed by the General Assembly, includes $25 million in one-time funding to the state’s schools to address safety risks and $10 million in recurring grant funding for ongoing safety and prevention programs. Funding may be used for enhancements to schools’ entries and exits, school resource officers and student mental health resources.

After completing safety inspections along with other officials and resource officers, Wallace said he hopes to see more camera upgrades in Johnson City Schools. 

“We have cameras at all the schools now, but we have recently upgraded Science Hill, Liberty Bell and Topper Academy with our local funds. We’ll use the bulk of the one-time state funding for Indian Trail and all the other schools,” Wallace said of the $163,000 the system will receive. 

The state will provide $63,000 recurring funds for additional SRO training, in-school suspension support at Topper Academy and miscellaneous supplies for other school safety officials.

Compared to other schools, Wallace said he believes Johnson City Schools is doing well in terms of safety, citing $480,000 for mental health support funding and additional SROs paid for recently by the city.

“I think what we always find when there’s a national and state initiative is how far ahead we are compared to other systems,” he said. “A lot of systems are going to use this money for SROs, but that’s already covered for us.”

To date, 1,796 schools have completed their security assessments with the remaining two percent of state schools set for completion by Aug. 31.

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