It's becoming harder for Shaundelle Brooks to send her son to school.
She's worried for his well-being, knowing each day could bring tragedy at the hands of another student in Hillsboro High School. This school year, Metro Nashville Public Schools has confiscated a rash of guns on the grounds of more than a half dozen schools.
This occurs as threats against local schools rise on social media. No Wonder Brooks' fear grows when she consumes local news or hears her phone ring during weekdays.
"You never know when you're going to get that call," said Brooks, whose son, Aldane, is a junior. In 2018, Brooks lost her oldest son, Akilah DeSilva, in a shooting at a Waffle House in Nashville.
When incidents occur, Brooks said she is often told about them by her son before the school district releases information. Meanwhile, Nashville Metro Police Chief John Drake in August announced his agency would assemble the largest police presence ever on district campuses.
So far, added police presence has not led to a decrease in related arrests.
On Nov 21, a 14-year-old Hunters Lane High School student was charged with carrying a loaded .22 caliber handgun after authorities recovered the gun from the glove compartment of a vehicle in which he was given a ride to school. It marked the tenth arrest for carrying a gun on school grounds since school began Aug. 8, inching closer to the total number of related arrests during the 2021-22 school year (13).
Also this school year, 10 students have been arrested for posting school threats on social media, as of Nov. 1. Last school year, nine students were arrested.
Michele Sheriff, the president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, a local union representing teachers, said her constituents are also worried about increased school threats and guns on school grounds. With the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting fresh in many educators' minds, Sheriff said there is skepticism among teachers and staff that safety issues are handled properly.
"In the past, when threats occurred or guns were brought to school, these events were handled inconsistently across the district," Sheriff said. "The increase in security/police at schools doesn't provide the sense of security it intends — the failures of law enforcement to act in school shootings have been very public."
Sean Braisted, a spokesperson for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said morning entrances and exits are monitored by staff members. Exterior doors are to be locked at all times and visitors are buzzed in by administration.
Heart skips a beat
Adrianne Wright's family moved to Nashville three years ago in hopes of taking advantage of Tennessee's lack of state income tax on wages, hoping it would help to stretch dollars.
But as school threats and confiscated guns continue to rise, she has contemplated pulling her child out of Metro Schools. Wright has a 5-year-old daughter who is enrolled in kindergarten at Warner Elementary. A mother of two, her heart skips a beat every time she receives a message from school officials regarding a threat or gun discovered on a campus, or she watches local news reports of a school shooting.
"I remember the first day that she walked into one elementary (school) and I was scared," Wright said. "And one of the first questions that I had asked in our school tours is what do you guys do during school shootings."
It was a question she said her parents never had to ask. Many of today's parents never had to endure lockdown and school shooter trainings during their childhood.
A generation later, at age 5, Wright said her daughter has lost some of the innocence children enjoy in elementary school. Her daughter is fully aware of school lockdown drills and that school shootings are becoming an increasing occurrence in America.
"It's devastating," Wright said, "the thought of her rehearsing what she would do if a shooter came in breaks my heart into a million pieces."
Parent believes Nashville public schools not doing enough, demands action
Brooks said the response from MNPS has been doing drills and lockdown training.
She doesn't think that's enough.
Sheriff said that in an October incident, a teacher saw a bullet fall from a student's pocket more than 30 minutes before a lockdown was initiated.
Sheriff said that in an October incident, a teacher saw a student have a bullet fall from their pocket more than an half hour before a lockdown was initiated.
"It's truly miraculous nothing happened," Sheriff said. "Our administration and SRO knew of the bullet immediately after the teacher saw it."
As a mother who lost a son to gun violence, Brooks joined Moms Demand Action ― a group that lobbies for improved gun laws and responsible gun ownership. She said Metro Schools is not doing enough to inform parents of threats of guns being brought to schools.
With a rise of guns on campus, Brooks wants local Schools to install metal detectors on campus.
"I think kids would think twice before they even decided to take a gun to school because you know you're going to be stopped," Brooks said.
Even when incidents occur, whether it's a threat from social media or a gun being brought to school, she said she is often told by her son about the incident before the school district releases information.
Brooks said she feels helpless when school lockdowns and threats are made.
"He was there, he was unable to make contact with me and this was happening," Brooks said.
Although the district does not use stationary metal detectors, Braisted said Metro Schools has access to security wands, when needed.
"Research indicates that entry-way metal detectors are not an effective deterrent for weapons in schools," Braisted said.
Wright said she does not advocate for metal detectors, saying gun safety and culture starts at home.
Braisted said calls to parents in the district had been made before, during or after school as threats arise.
"Our schools work closely with the MNPD and MNPS Security team to ensure a safe environment, and we’ll continue to encourage a culture where concerns are reported and acted upon swiftly and safety to keep our students and staff safe," Braisted said.
Increased security at Nashville schools; SRO expert offers perspective
Nashville's police chief in August promised overtime work and higher police visibility at local elementary schools. Long-term plans called for the hiring for part-time safety ambassadors on campus — they would serve as unarmed employees of MNPS.
All 13 high schools have two school resource officers, Drake said, with a rotation of SROs at middle schools. In total, Drake said the plan for part-time ambassadors and overtime for SROs would cost between $5-$6 million.
Mo Canady, the executive director for National Association of School Resources Officers, said SROs are specifically trained for their roles, and added the positions have been around since the 1950s. He said coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many SROs have been tasked more than ever with identifying signs of mental health issues.
"We recognized early on that that we were going to have a lot of problems coming back to school, whether it be mental health, whether it be, you know, new levels of violence in our communities that have made their ways in the way in schools," Canady said.
Emotional start to Nashville's 2022-23 school year
The start of the school year has been emotional for Brooks, knowing each day she sends her son to school, there's a risk for his safety no parent should experience.
That's why she's pleading for changes to ensure no child faces gun violence at school.
For Wright, she's facing an uncertain future for her two young children, heading toward 12 years in Metro Nashville Public Schools.
"What I would like to see is a deeper commitment to shifting the culture of gun violence," Wright said.
Reach reporter Craig Shoup by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Craig_Shoup. To support his work, sign up for a digital subscription to www.tennessean.com.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Rise in guns being confiscated at school at Metro Nashville Schools