Watson said Monday during a press conference at Bradley Central High School that children will be protected in public schools.
“My legislation, under specific guidelines, will allow highly trained staff to serve in this capacity,” he said.
Authorized personnel must be approved by the local school district, must have a handgun carry permit and complete a 40-hour basic course in school police training in crisis management in a hostile situation.
“This is the same requirement as a school resource officer in the state of Tennessee,” he said. “The person will carry a concealed weapon and no student or citizen will ever know who is serving in that capacity. It is similar to an air marshal.”
He said he does not propose eliminating school resource officers, but to supplement security.
“I would hate to be the law enforcement officer who made that decision to eliminate SROs,” he said.
He said former Sheriff Dan Gilley implemented an effective SRO program in Bradley County, but not all counties have resource officers. Some rural schools do not have security and first response times are long.
Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel also made it clear the legislation would not eliminate police officers in schools. He said school administrators go to work every day thinking about keeping schools safe.
“We have safety plans. We use every measure we can,” he said. “I believe this is a way to provide additional protection.”
Bradley Central High School Principal Todd Shoemaker said he wants to look at every available tool to protect students. School safety must be dwelled upon and proactive steps must be taken, he said.
The former school resource officer said administrators across the nation are re-evaluating school safety procedures since the mass murder of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
“Every day, parents come to Bradley Central High School and schools all across the nation and put the safety of their children in our hands,” Shoemaker said. “As teachers and administrators, we want to make sure their kids are safe. We believe this bill is a positive step in that direction.”
Shoemaker pointed out not every teacher should carry a weapon, but he believes certified and trained people should be armed to protect students from violent intruders.
Bradley Central has a student population of 1,700 students entrusted to a faculty that includes former police officers and military personnel.
“I believe these individuals are more than capable of being able to carry a weapon and confront a hostile individual,” he said.
At least four bills dealing with school security were filed before the 108th General Assembly opened this afternoon in Nashville.
Watson asked the public to consider each bill directed toward adding armed security at public schools before forming an opinion. He said his bill is not a mandate, but an option that would allow local school districts to arm specifically trained faculty or hire private security to serve as an added measure to fight and combat an active shooter in a school building.
“In my hand today, I hold [accounts of] violent offenses in the school years of 2009 and 2010. Most of them involve deadly weapons such as a gun, a knife and even a bomb threat of some sort,” he said.
Watson said his bill is not a comprehensive overhaul of school security and it is not a mental health bill that deals with the mental stability of who or who should not serve in the supplemental role. That, he said, is up to local educators.
The bill is meant as an option, he said.