Following the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Unicoi County officials began work to ensure that local students are protected as they attend classes at Unicoi County Schools.
On Friday, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley and Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said officials are committed to this, and, when students return from the Christmas break in early January, trained officers will be present in all of the county’s schools.
“As the sheriff of Unicoi County, and with the help of all the county officials and the town of Unicoi and the city of Erwin, we were able to work it out to have the schools covered,” Hensley said.
Officers were already in place at Unicoi County High School and Unicoi County Middle School. These officers were previously paid for through the state’s Safe Schools program grant, but funding for that grant was lost. Hensley absorbed the cost of the officers into his department for this fiscal year so the officers could be kept in place.
Hensley said full-time, Police Officer Standards and Training-certified officers will now be in place at the county’s other schools through the end of the school year. Schools within the limits of the town of Erwin will be manned by officers from the Erwin Police Department, and the sheriff’s department will provide officers at the other schools.
Hensley said his biggest concern at this point is future funding for the positions, but he said he expects state and federal funding for school safety to become available to local governments at some point. He said if this does not happen, he will incorporate funding for the positions into his department’s budgetary requests. Tilson said Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley has already committed to keeping the officers in Erwin schools.
“Time’s short. We’re trying to get what we can done,” Tilson said. “It’s a difficult thing all the way around, but we’re going to have officers there for the start of Jan. 3, so when they come back, (the officers) will be there full-time.”
Tilson said if something were to happen in one of the system’s schools, it would be met with response with resources and officers from both the Erwin Police Department and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, regardless of the school’s location in Unicoi County.
“So you’re going to get everything he and I both have together if there’s any kind of problems at the schools,” Tilson said.