KPD: Knox County Schools 'sound' security policy to get 'tweaks'; teacher training to be scheduled
Knoxville Police Department, Knox County Sheriff's Office and Knox County Schools officials discuss the outcome of today's meeting on school safety. Calvin Mattheis/News SenitnelBuy Photo
KPD Deputy Chief Gary Holliday speaks during a press conference after a meeting with KPD, KCSO and Knox County Schools regarding the communications breakdown of a threat alert system in Knoxville, Tennessee on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. Officials spoke about how to improve communication and the investigation of threats.(Photo: Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel)Buy Photo
Knoxville police and Knox County Schools security officials said there are no major flaws in their policies or procedures following a reported communications breakdown during a threat of school violence last week.
"The policy we've had in place, that we've been using is sound," Knoxville Police Department Deputy Chief Gary Holliday said following a Wednesday meeting between KPD, the Knox County Sheriff's Office and schools security called in the wake of communication problems that arose during a Holston Middle School student threat last week.
Holliday said there are "some tweaks to be made" to ensure timely internal communications among the agencies. But he downplayed the failures exposed by the incident.
"Speaking for the group that met this morning," he said, "we're all confident in what we're doing."
Tweaks to communication
During the investigation into the Holston incident, law enforcement struggled to reach school security officials including KCS Security Chief Gus Paidousis, a former deputy chief with KPD.CLOSE
Faced with a threat that a Holston Middle School student was planning to "shoot up" the school, two police agencies tried to warn Knox County Schools but couldn't get school security supervisors on the phone and learned an alert system hadn't been working for weeks, records show. Angela Gosnell/News Sentinel
Holliday said Wednesday the KPD officers who tried to reach him were using an incorrect phone number.
Two other KCS security employees, Maj. Greg Pinkston and a security dispatch supervisor, did not answer their phones around 1 a.m. when officers were trying to reach them.
It was unclear whether the two would face disciplinary action. Paidousis said Wednesday it is under review.
"This will be an opportunity for us to get better," he said. "If we need to take corrective action to correct that, we will do that."
Going forward, Holliday said improvements to communication will include making sure the correct phone numbers are on hand as well as making sure everyone knows the proper flow of information and who to notify.
Schools will look at safety plan, training
The issue of being unable to reach security officials is an isolated incident, according to Holliday, though he said there have been instances in the past where the school system has been delayed in reporting threats of school violence to police.
That was also the case in the Holston incident, in which schools officials said Principal Kathryn Lutton arranged to meet with the mother of the student who allegedly made the threat but did not immediately notify law enforcement.
"There have been a couple (other) instances in which there was a communications gap, but in those instances it was quickly covered and we were able to follow up on those cases," Holliday said.Show ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide
Paidousis said the agencies will revisit their safety plan and make sure school staff, most notably principals, are aware of its contents and set up training for the approximately 4,000 teachers in the district's roughly 90 schools.
How quickly that will happen is not certain, although he said "just as quickly as we can push it out."
The incident last week was originally reported to Lutton during the school day Thursday by two girls who said they heard a sixth-grade student talking about bringing a gun to school, according to Knoxville Police Department documents.
Lutton called the boy's mother and arranged to meet with her the following day after the mother said her son was trying to "act cool" and was not a threat.
She did not immediately notify law enforcement or the school resource officer as district protocol requires, according to Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas.
He said the district is reviewing the case and whether there will be disciplinary action for Lutton.
'The time for anonymity is gone'
During the investigation law enforcement also learned from a school security dispatcher that the district's Text-a-Tip program, a text message service that allows the public to report tips on school security issues, was not working for six days from Feb.
9 to Feb.
Paidousis said Wednesday the texting system was taken down by its vendor, Motorola, because of a "security vulnerability" and that it did not factor into the issues that arose during the Holston threat.
"If the Text-a-Tip is not working and it's like any system - sometimes it doesn't work - pick up the telephone and report it to your law enforcement agency and don't worry so much about anonymity," Paidousis said.
"The time for anonymity has come and gone. If you have a school safety concern you need to pick up the telephone."
'No guarantees' when it comes to school safety
The incident at Holston follows a school shooting in Parkland, Florida last week in which 17 people were killed. The shooting has elevated concerns about school violence.
Several threats have been reported in East Tennessee schools over the last week, including a threat found in the bathroom of a Sevierville school Tuesday night.
Police have deemed that threat not credible but said there would be a heightened police presence at Sevierville schools Wednesday.
Meanwhile, officials in Knox County said the Florida shooting as well as the recent incident at Holston has prompted them to re-evaluate safety in local schools but at the end of the day there are no guarantees.
"Nobody can stand up in any school district in this country and guarantee your child is going to be safe at school," Paidousis said. "What I can guarantee is every day thousands of people wake up in this county and care for children.
"There's nobody who cares about kids any more than our principals.
We have a lot of great things in place.
There will never be a finish line when it comes to protection.
As great as we think our (security) plan is, there's always an opportunity to get better."Read or Share this story: http://knoxne.ws/2HB8n02