The shooting in Nashville highlights the safety of private schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Alarms went off and lights flashed as a heavily armed attacker stalked the hallways of The Covenant School.

Surveillance footage of Monday’s shooting at a private Christian school Nashville featured many familiar security measures, including a double set of locked glass doors through which the killer shot before fatally shooting three children and three school staff members.

“It’s just impossible to stop anybody” from that door with a high-powered weapon, said George Grant, a leader of the Nashville Presbytery affiliated with the school. Grant said the presbytery does not have a formal security program for its churches and schools, but members have worked together to share best practices and improve security.

In the US, private schools generally do not face as many requirements as public schools to develop safety plans. In Tennessee, laws requiring schools to develop and submit safety plans do not apply to private schools, the state Department of Education said in an emailed statement.

Private schools sometimes do not have access to government programs to enhance security, although in some states private schools can receive public money to enhance security with personnel, equipment and technology. Some federal grants are also available to private schools for security assistance.

While private schools generally don’t have access to police, many public schools have assigned them to their campuses, said Mo Canaday, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. He said some private schools have arranged to hire newly retired officers.

“I would imagine in the wake of this horrific situation in Nashville that there might be more efforts on the part of private schools to try to not only increase security, but to bring in school resource officers.”

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Still, amid widespread concern about mass shootings, experts say private schools have invested as much in violence prevention as public schools.

Private schools have been among the institutions that have invested the most in security since the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Today, private schools have some of the highest-paid security professionals, including retired federal agents, said Michael Dorn, who has participated in thousands of school security assessments as executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit school safety center.

Safety protocols for private schools are similar to those for public schools, but they are more tailored to each school’s location and circumstances, said Myra McGovern of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Security, such as metal detectors, may not be as visible at private schools, which also have considerations, including boarding students and, in some cases, caring for the children of heads of state, he said.

“The focus on safety is similar, but how it manifests may be different,” McGovern said.

The quality of private school safety plans also varies widely, as it does for public schools, Dorn said.

“We see schools that are quite behind and some are exceptional,” he said.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order on school security measures last year ordered the state to conduct a report on the use of armed guards at non-public schools and assess their need for active shooter training.

Most school systems in the US conduct active shooter and lockdown training, and the Nashville school did in fact undergo active shooter training. 2022, which prevented further loss of life in Monday’s shooting, city police spokeswoman Brooke Reese said.

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Private or not, shootings are more common at middle and high schools than at elementary schools like Covenant, where security officers are less likely to be assigned. Educators are also wary of the concerns of young students with stricter security measures.

The Covenant School has about 200 students in preschool through sixth grade. The school and Covenant Presbyterian Church are affiliated with the Presbytery of Nashville, which includes congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America throughout Middle Tennessee and Southwest Kentucky.

“In the last few years, most of our churches have gone through training and really tested their security measures,” said Grant, the immediate past moderator of the Nashville Presbytery. “It’s not an official presbytery-wide initiative, but it just grew out of relationships.”

Grant said Franklin Classical School, a school under the spiritual supervision of his church, the Parish Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, has lockdown procedures and security codes. The school always has a former police officer on site when the school is in session. It is not known if The Covenant School had a security officer.

Grant said his church’s security team had requested a review of security protocols and had already scheduled training for the week after Easter.

“It’s just a good reminder that we live in a broken, fallen world,” he said. “And we must be vigilant to take care of each other as best we can.”

___ Ma reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Jonathan Mathis in Nashville and Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.

The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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