Memphis school board to consider $5.5 million of safety and security upgrades

Parents walk past police vehicles following a shooting at Cummings Elementary School in Memphis.
Parents walk past police vehicles following a September shooting at Cummings Elementary School in Memphis. The district’s proposed security upgrades are part of an ongoing push to improve safety in response to escalating gun violence in Memphis schools and surrounding neighborhoods. (Cathryn Stout / Chalkbeat)

A month after a gunman fatally shot 19 students and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas — and nearly six months after a shooting at a Memphis school rocked the community — Memphis-Shelby County Schools administrators want to spend $5.5 million on safety and security upgrades.

District officials on Tuesday called the upgrades imperative for keeping students and school staff safe amid a rise in gun violence.

The proposal calls for spending just over $2.5 million to replace outdated alarm and card access systems at several schools to ensure all doors are locked at all times. It also includes about $2.9 million for new security cameras inside and outside schools, backup power supplies, servers, and intercom systems at school entrances to monitor visitors before allowing them inside the building.

“Some of our buildings are old, and the equipment is old, too,” Carolyn Jackson, the district’s chief of safety and security, told Chalkbeat after Tuesday’s board meeting. “We’re reimagining what safety and security looks like going into next school year.”

The proposed upgrades follow the Uvalde shooting, but they are part of an ongoing push to improve safety in the district as it confronts escalating gun violence in Memphis schools and surrounding neighborhoods.

In late September, a shooting in a stairwell at Cummings K-8 Optional School left a 13-year-old boy injured and a classmate in custody. A month later, a shooting outside Street Ministries near Kingsbury middle and high schools left three teens and an adult injured. 

And in December, two MSCS teens — Phillexus Buchanan, a 15-year-old Hamilton High School student, and Breunna Woods, a 16-year-old Wooddale High School student — were shot and killed during a gas station ambush after a high school basketball game.

After the Cummings shooting, Superintendent Joris Ray recruited former Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong to lead a review of district safety practices. 

Ray also floated the option of creating a district peace force, composed of armed school resource officers rather than the sheriff’s deputies who currently police Memphis schools. Such a force could focus on restorative practices and building relationships with students, Ray said, and would answer directly to the school system. The peace force was originally proposed by former Superintendent Kriner Kash.

MSCS officials have remained tight-lipped about Armstrong’s findings, saying releasing them could compromise safety protocols. They did not immediately respond to questions on Wednesday about whether the district is still considering a peace force.

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But Ray has continued to focus on school safety, and after the string of incidents in the fall, he pleaded with parents and community members to help the district prevent further violence. 

In the latest round of districtwide restructuring moves, Ray added three new leaders to the district’s department of safety and security, and named Jackson the official chief of the department. She had been interim chief since Gerald Darling retired from the role in January.

The school board is slated to vote on the proposed security upgrades at its next business meeting on June 28.

Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at

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