Florida shooting sparks discussion, possibility of arming staff
School of the Osage will turn to its Safety Task Force to develop recommendations on how to make school district facilities safe from intruders in the wake of the recent Florida high school shootings.
"This is something I think the Safety Task Force should look at," Board member James Edwards offered at Monday night's regular board meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Brent Depeé agreed.
"Our process in making decisions is that I was taught never make a decision based on emotion," Dr. Depeé said. "We feel like two heads are always better than one. Our process has been to get a committee, identify the problem and then that committee will take that problem, do research and look at best practices. Then we get stakeholders' input -- students, parents, employees -- and then analyze that information and make a recommendation to the board."
Depeé noted board members have fielded questions and concerns since the Florida shootings.
An agenda item for Monday night's meeting included discussion on the possibility of using Shield Solutions of West Plains for school security and training, and that attracted several concerned citizens.
Shield Solutions specializes in business and school security. It offers a Critical Incident Response Course and a School Employee Firearms Training program that equip a school's select employees to carry concealed firearms.
Depeé told the board that school district policy currently regulates the presence of firearms on school property.
"This is a policy issue," he said.
School policy states:
"No person shall carry a firearm or concealed weapon or any other weapon readily capable of lethal use into any school or onto any school transportation or to the premises of any function or any activity sponsored or sanctioned by the district except for any authorized law enforcement officials."
Board members briefly discussed the issue and options before deciding to have the Safety Task Force research the issue and then offer recommendations.
"I don't think it would hurt to have a more aggressive approach to intruder drills, and maybe look over our systems and see how we're doing," board member Alison Schneider suggested.
She added, however, she isn't sure how she feels about arming school staff.
Depeé said he appreciated the turnout of residents.
"This is a good way to gather consensus, and I'm thankful for the number of people who care about our kids. This is good conversation to have," he said.
Board President Mary Whitman issued an invitation to community members to join the Safety Task Force.
In a followup with Dr. Depeé, he said:
"As the leader of School of the Osage, I would personally like the opportunity to have a fighting chance at an armed intruder. I also think with the right training and disposition certain school personnel could utilize defensive weapons to protect students and staff. I believe there must be some very specific and well thought out policies and procedures in place before I would entertain recommending any policy pertaining to weapons. I do not support anything of this nature which is not directly tied to extensive (e.g. 40 hours or more) strategic training and screening, followed up systematically by continuous improvement of these skills."
Relative to the school safety issue, local parent and Heritage PTA President Ann Duncan offered a couple of security device suggestions she feels would enhance safety. She spoke during the Public Comment portion of the agenda.
"As parent, I think one of the most import things on our minds right now is all of these school shootings that keep happening and what we can do to keep our kids safe," she told the board.
In her research, she found that Barricade Locks and Nitelock Security Devices might be suitable for use on classroom doors throughout the district. Each costs about $50, and some individuals and businesses might be willing to donate toward the purchase, she said.
"I think any security or sense of security that we can give students and teachers and faculty would be amazing," Duncan said.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Laura Nelson shared how a newly launched Next Generation Mentoring program is making a difference in the lives of ninth graders. She said the NGM program is providing a safety net for students.
"I don't think we can underestimate how important it is to take care of our kids on a one-to-one basis," she told the board. "This is providing a better safety net than we had before, and it kicked off the day after the Florida shootings. On that morning when our flags were flying half staff, we had kids who said things like, "Nobody has ever treated me like this;" "Nobody has ever asked me what I want to do after graduation."
Another student told his mentor that no one had ever bothered to ask him what food he liked.
"So while I know we need door locks, and I know we need more training and we can always get better, I'm just here to tell you that it's the commitment of the community that protects kids and protects our own," Dr. Nelson said.
She lauded the community partners who have volunteered for the NGM program.
"In every case where you've seen these things happen across the country there are some very similar features, and to that extent we can tighten up our safety net. So, it's not just the mentoring, it's the academic advising we're doing, it's the way we're trying with our counselors to reach out through Check and Connect. I'm here to tell you that it's a community solution, it's the community taking care of the kids," she said.