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West Knox County schools address recent violence

It’s business as usual at West Knox County schools following last week’s school shootings in Jacksboro and the appearance of an unloaded gun at South Doyle High School.

So far this year, there have been two incidences of unloaded guns in Knox County, both at South Doyle. In the previous five years, one loaded gun has been reported at Bearden High School and one at an Austin-East homefootball game. An additional unloaded gun was reported at the Center School.

Tennesseans have witnessed several cases of school tragedies in the last year. In addition to the death of assistant principal Ken Bruce in Jacksboro, two other Jacksboro principals were wounded and hospitalized.

A Lincoln County principal was attacked Nov. 6 by two armed, masked men. Steve Steelman, principal at Fayetteville Intermediate School, was alone when the two men hit him several times in the face, including striking him in the mouth with a paddle. He had surgery late that day to repair damage to his tongue and mouth.

Earlier this school year a loaded gun was brought to Maury Middle School in Jefferson County in a plot to shoot a teacher. The teacher was absent, but the gun was accidentally discharged in the boys’ restroom, striking a student in the leg.

In March, a Stewart County school bus driver was killed by a 15-year-old student.

The Knox County Schools system is reminding principals, teachers and parents about the importance of the Threat Assessment Program, but no security changes have been made so far in local schools.

“We feel it’s our best security effort,” said Russ Oaks, spokesman for the Knox County Schools system, of the Threat Assessment Program. The program was put in place two years ago to allow teachers and parents to report unusual student behavior involving threats or more hidden indicators such as a disturbing English paper or piece of artwork. Each school has its own threat assessment team and there’s also a countywide team. When incidents are reported, the team tries to determine whether the student is a threat or needs counseling.

“We’ve been able to intervene several times,” Oaks said. Parents may observe threatening behavior in their children’s friends and they may report this third-party information to the school principal.

Farragut High School principal Mike Reynolds said that ultimately the students decide whether a school is a safe place.

“Everywhere there’s been a shooting, someone knew about it prior,” Reynolds said. Students need to come to teachers and administrators whenever they hear of threatening behavior. “We depend on the students to make this a safe haven.”

Reynolds said that part of the difficulty with school security is that schools are a contradiction in and of themselves, adding they’re supposed to be open and public and also closed and protected. FHS has two security officers on school grounds.

“You constantly have to prepare (for school violence). As long as kids have access to weapons, there’s a chance they’ll bring them to school,” Reynolds said.

“Everywhere our kids turn, they see violence. They’re just constantly bombarded. The graphic nature of some video games is just shocking. There used to be a standard to uphold some sort of morality. T-V shows even helped uphold morality. There are very few shows out there now that do that.”

FHS assistant principal Dwayne Simmons said that he was fortunate to be able to see his own children off each morning before school. He believes there’s not enough communication in many families. “Check their rooms. Constantly talk to them,” he says.

“We haven’t really changed anything in our approach to security,” said Farragut Middle School principal Richard Dalhaus.

Dalhaus said he wants the school to maintain its focus on the positive: acts of kindness and being responsive to each other, but he doesn’t want to have his head in the sand concerning school security. He asks parents to “please emphasize to your children that anything to do with guns or violence is not a source for humor.”

Cedar Bluff Middle School principal Sonya Winstead advises parents to “stay involved, know where their children are and who they’re hanging out with.”

Early warning signs that a student may pose a threat are listed at They are difficulty eating or sleeping; abuse of animals; unusual attraction to violent entertainment; withdrawal from social interaction; feelings of rejection and/or persecution; unusually intense or frequent violent content in personal writings or artwork; a pattern of bullying; intolerance or prejudice against certain groups of people; drug or alcohol abuse; membership in a gang; threats of serious violence.

Imminent warning signs require immediate intervention and may include physical fighting with others; destruction of property; intense anger for minor reasons; detailed threats of violence; possession of weapons and threats of suicide.


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