TN bill would withhold state funding from schools for leaving doors unlocked

Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 6:44 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In an effort to improve school safety, House and Senate Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly have presented a bill that would require all schools to lock all exterior doors at all hours of the day.

“If a back door or a side door is left ajar… the wrong person may take advantage of that and come into the school,” said Memphis Rep. Mark White.

White, a Republican, presented the bill before a House subcommittee on Tuesday, stating the need for this bill is reinforced by an inspection the state fire marshal performed over the 2022-2023 school year.

“172 of around 1,000 schools were found to have unlocked exterior doors,” White said.

The bill requires all schools to conduct annual intruder or emergency safety drills and also updates building standards.

The bill’s enforcement power, in regard to locking all exterior doors, is giving law enforcement the authority to inspect school doors, and “there is no limit on the number of inspections law enforcement personnel may conduct.”

Should there be an unlocked door, the first strike is a written note sent to school and state leaders.

The second strike is less forgiving.

If the school doesn’t already have a resource officer or security guard, the school would be required to hire either within thirty days of the second strike, and the school would take on that added cost.

The third strike would result in a withholding of state funding in the amount of 2% of the annual funding that specific school would receive from the state.

Every additional violation would result in an additional 2% withholding, up to 10%.

If the school already had a resource officer or security guard during the first violation, there would be one less strike.

Strike two, in that instance, would result in a 2% reduction in funding.

“...but there are corrective measures where the school can reclaim that money,” said White.

The funds will be withheld until the school provides proof that security personnel has been hired and a corrective action plan.

We reached out to Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS), the state’s largest school district, for a reaction to this bill.

State Senator London Lamar from Memphis said she is in support of improving school safety, but penalizing schools is not the answer, in her eyes.

Lamar said, “We need to come up with common sense, pragmatic, evidence-based solutions to school safety… not legislation surrounding arming teachers with guns or penalizing people around doors, but making sure we can give teachers and school officials the proper training to deal with many of the children and the issues coming into the school.”

House Bill 0322 and SB 0274 are still in committee.

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