Memphis schools to ramp up security

District buying X-ray machines; police patrols begin Wednesday


More security officers and equipment are headed to Memphis City Schools, Interim Supt. Dan Ward announced Monday night.

The district will buy 15 X-ray machines to assist in metal detector searches. The X-ray machines, which the district hopes to have in place before classes end this spring, will be used to scan student backpacks and coats and reduce the amount of time it takes to get students through screenings.

Those machines will be purchased with the $500,000 in grant money Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton pledged to the school district last week for security equipment. The 67 Memphis police officers Herenton said he was re-deploying to the schools will start their new assignments this Wednesday.

Ward also plans to ask the board for $1.2 million to hire 23 additional security officers. If the board approves, the new officers would go through training this fall.

The district currently has 37 of its own security officers and 42 Memphis Police Department officers in its middle and high schools.

The district also plans to conduct safety compliance audits to make sure schools are following security procedures and to ramp up the number of metal detector screenings at its secondary schools.

It will also use a new district-level security team to help with metal detector screenings at Memphis schools identified as having a "higher risk of violent student behaviors," Ward said.

The changes come after two classroom shootings in city schools this month and another in October.

Despite a district-administered survey conducted last spring that said more than 80 percent of students and teachers feel safe in their schools, this month's shootings bring back to the fore a longstanding perception that Memphis schools are unsafe. It's a view that board members and administrators hope to combat.

In a packed auditorium, more than a dozen people came forward Monday night to express their concerns about safety and ask the board to do more.

Central High School student Tenisha Wakefield said metal detectors alone won't do it. More direct involvement in the lives of students is what counts.

"The major thing students need now is someone to listen to them," Wakefield said.

Ward's speech Monday night was the latest effort by district officials to assuage a community rattled by the shootings.

"At MCS, we respect the dignity, safety and well-being of our students, their parents, our staff and our community," Ward said. "No one is entitled to use violence; therefore, violence of any form will not be tolerated in our schools, at any of our schools at sponsored events, on or off campus."

Memphis Board of Education president Tomeka Hart said she was pleased with Ward's presentation.

"On behalf of the board, we are ready to work with you on any changes you need us to make as a board toward our policies," she told Ward during the meeting.

"I think you presented a full plan. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The endurance is what is going to win this race," Hart said.