Blount County is adding buzz-in security doors to its two high schools, following a security review and three threats in the past week.
Twice this week William Blount High School sophomores have been arrested for threats at the school, and a threat last week at Heritage High School is still under investigation, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office said.
Threatening notes were found on columns outside WBHS after school Monday, according to a school spokesperson, and the BCSO announced Tuesday that it arrested a 16-year-old boy identified on a video leaving the notes.
He and another 16-year-old boy arrested Monday after allegedly making threats about “shooting up the school” both were charged with delinquent by false report, the BCSO said.
The boys were taken to the Blount County Juvenile facility pending a detention release hearing within 72 hours. In both cases, a school resource office determined the boys did not have access to weapons at home, the BCSO said. In the notes found Monday, the writer threatened to shoot up the school on dates that coincide with spring break, March 12-19, the sheriff’s department said.
BCS announced plans to add buzz-in security doors to both high schools Tuesday at WBHS, during a regular meeting of the Blount County Commission’s Education Committee, which rotates among schools each month.
“School security has never been more important than it is today,” William Blount Principal Rob Clark said, referring to the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., where 14 students and three staff members died.
In his report to the committee, Clark noted that security is a priority in proposed renovations to the county’s 40-year-old high schools.
The schools now have multiple buildings and portable classrooms for students to enter and exit throughout the day, but renovations on both campuses would connect the buildings, eliminate the portables and create one entrance at each school.
Proposed designs also would improve sight lines within the schools, such as eliminating banks of lockers.
“There’s not a night I go to bed or a morning that I wake up not thinking about school safety and security,” BCS Director Rob Britt told county commissioners and School Board members at the meeting.
About a year ago Blount County completed a project to add the secure entrances to all of the district’s elementary and middle schools, and late in the year it added a buzz-in door to the Central Office.
Because of limited funding, Britt said, the district previously decided not to add the buzz-in doors at the high schools, both of which have guards posted at the campus entrances.
The guards will remain in place, he said, but the door systems will add another layer of security.
The district plans to add buzz-in entrances to both the main buildings and the career and technical education buildings at both high schools. William Blount’s separate Ninth Grade Academy already has a buzz-in door.
Alcoa City Schools announced last week that it was adding a buzz-in door to Alcoa High School, the only school in the district that didn’t yet have the system.
Maryville City Schools have had buzz-in systems for at least three years.
Britt said BCS has worked with the BCSO to review safety considering both what can be done right now and in the future. Already schools have revised some procedures, he said, and the district’s budget proposal for the 2018-19 school year will include items such as additional cameras.
He noted that the school campuses are used not only for classes but also after hours for sports and other activities. “That adds to the challenge of keeping our kids safe,” he said.
Speaking of the proposed renovations, Britt noted that HHS opened in 1977 and WBHS in 1979, the year he graduated from high school. “The world has changed a lot,” he said, “and we have to change with it.”
After the meeting, when asked about the recent threats at the county high schools, he noted that students who heard or saw something notified staff, allowing the schools and sheriff’s office to respond.
“I think that’s a sign of a healthy culture,” he said.
BCSO said Monday that the school resource officer at William Blount received information that a student was making threats and discovered on the boy’s school-issued computer that he had searched for information about school shootings.
On Feb. 20, the SRO at Heritage High School learned of a bomb threat that included several first names and was written on the wall of a boy’s bathroom. Students were evacuated, and no suspicious devices were found in the school.
Schools in several other Tennessee counties have investigated threats in the past week.