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How has private school security changed in Tennessee, a year after Covenant shooting?


Today marks one year since an assailant shot and killed six people at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tenn. The Covenant School shooting thrusts renewed focus on school security, especially at private schools, which have less regulation. Alexis Marshall of member station WPLN reports on what has changed in the year since.

ALEXIS MARSHALL, BYLINE: Sixteen-year-old Addie Brue was a student at St. Cecilia Academy, a Catholic school in Nashville, when the Covenant shooting happened. A few days later, she attended a vigil for the victims.

ADDIE BRUE: I just feel so upset, especially for, like, the parents who lost their child.

MARSHALL: The shooting also stirred fears about her own safety.

ADDIE: I just - I don't want to be - feel scared going to school anymore and having to think about what do I do if there's a shooter that wants - that's, like, going to come in and where do I go? And I'm tired of living in fear.

MARSHALL: In the weeks that followed the shooting, protesters showed up at the state capitol in the thousands, many of them students and parents, demanding gun reform. The Republican-controlled legislature ignored their demands, but lawmakers did approve more than $200 million to support school security. Most of that went toward the public school system, which has many state-mandated safety requirements. Fourteen million was dedicated to private schools. Shannon Gordon of Tennessee's Department of Education lays out what they used it for.

SHANNON GORDON: Things like perimeter control, signage, access control.

MARSHALL: Think fencing around schools, a single point of entry and a system to buzz to get into the front office. Schools have also used the public funds to invest in window protection, visitor background check systems and increased surveillance, to name a few. Still, Gordon recognizes all of these measures have limitations.

GORDON: There isn't a product out there that is going to stop all bullets from coming in. Those products just don't exist.

MARSHALL: What these measures can do is buy time for law enforcement to arrive, she says. Brian Yarbro is in charge of school safety at Tennessee's Department of Education. He says he hears from a lot of private school leaders who are grateful to have these public dollars.

BRIAN YARBRO: All school administrators have had the same goal, and that's to make sure that we do everything possible to keep our kids safe and our staff safe.

MARSHALL: He says a crucial part of mitigating risk is changing how we think about school shootings.

YARBRO: And we've got to get out of the mindset of, oh, it can't happen here because it can.

MARSHALL: Despite the millions of dollars Tennessee has spent hardening schools to intruders, critics say these investments don't address some of the root causes of school shootings, like Tennessee's easy gun access, which allowed the Covenant School shooter to buy seven guns, including an AR-15-style weapon. It's something Addie Brue identified at the vigil last year in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

ADDIE: I really want there to be better gun control. Like, I feel like that's a must.

MARSHALL: One year after Covenant, calls for gun reform continue in Tennessee. To date, lawmakers have not passed any new limits on what kinds of guns can be purchased or who can carry them.

For NPR News, I'm Alexis Marshall in Nashville.

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Alexis Marshall