For Camdenton, School of the Osage and Morgan County R-II (Versailles) superintendents, security includes things that these days are the sad basic realities — locked buildings, security cameras, school resource officers (SROs) and active shooter drills and training.

Tragic school shootings leave the public wondering why, and a guaranteed way to heat up animosity among Americans over differing views on gun control. But while regular citizens debate the big picture, local school administrators must deal with what’s on the ground and within their control to try to keep students safe based on whatever rules and funding are currently in play. 

Security and prevention methods are continually evaluated.

For Camdenton, School of the Osage and Morgan County R-II (Versailles) superintendents, security includes things that these days are the sad basic realities — locked buildings, security cameras, school resource officers (SROs) and active shooter drills and training.

But these schools have gone beyond that and are considering more. 

In an interview with the Lake Sun, Camdenton Superintendent Tim Hadfield said the board “does allow employees who are commissioned law enforcement officers who also have POST certification to carry a weapon in their schools. The board does employ individuals who have these two requirements and the board can allow them to carry on a case-by-case basis.”

While this might sound like SROs, according to Hadfield, these staff members are in addition to the officers who are members of the Camdenton Police Department and work on campus. 

Hadfield noted that the district has not considered expanding this allowance to other employees, and any employees who meet the two requirements would be considered as armed employees by the board of education.

Prior to the Florida shooting, Camdenton had already become an ALICE district, as did Versailles. 

According to the ALICE website, they “believe that individuals should be authorized and empowered to make their own life-saving decisions.” Their mission is to provide the knowledge and skills to serve when shots are fired, achieved through training in drill form.

To that end, ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. This is a system that the districts can use for training and drilling staff members and students on what to do in active shooter scenarios.

While the first choice is to evacuate, Ryerson explains that the “counter” part of the acronym covers actions for potential worst case scenarios, if a shooter is between you and the exit. Instructors teach how to put up a barricade or other system to secure a door as well as creating a weapon from items in the room.

According to MCR2 Superintendent Dr. Joyce Ryerson, they drill all staff prior to the start of school in August. High school students also undergo a drill in the fall, but because of the continuing evaluation for safety, the district board of education is considering whether to also begin an annual drill for middle schoolers.

Implemented in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, Versailles Middle School students were then considered too young for active shooter drills. But growing up in the age of mass shootings, Ryerson said they now have middle school students who have grown up with the issue saying they want to practice and they want to know what to do.

For its district, the School of the Osage Board of Education and administration is now researching additional security measures with Shield Solutions. This West Plains, Missouri-based firm can, among other things, train select school staff to carry guns for school security.

Climax Springs School has contracted with Shield Solutions for the last few years to provide active shooter training for the school as a whole as well as more specialized and more frequent training of select staff members who carry guns at the school as another measure of security.

After the recent Florida shooting, the School of the Osage Board of Education reached out to Shield Solutions, sparking some concerns from citizens and much discussion at a recent meeting about the wisdom of arming staff.

It is something that the Versailles district has opted not to do, partly for insurance reasons. Ryerson said their insurance does not cover arming regular staff members, though they would be allowed to have a trained security officer. Because the district has a school resource officer through the Versailles Police Department, it does not go to the additional measure of employing its own security officer though they could.

Typically, a trained security officer would be an administrator, according to Ryerson.

Beyond security are less flashy, but steady, measures of prevention, or at least best efforts at prevention.

Camdenton’s Hadfield notes that there is always evil in the world, but the district and its personnel make their best efforts to prepare themselves to keep the children in their care safe.

When all it takes is one person, one or two slip-ups in a series of systems, the image of school as a safe zone can all too easily fall apart.

While many Americans still disagree about gun control issues, one thing we seem to agree on is the need for improved mental health services as a major step toward prevention. A poll conducted by ABCNews and the Washington Post in the wake of the Florida school shooting showed that 77 percent of the 808 respondents said better mental health monitoring and treatment could have averted the incident. Other options given to respondents were stricter gun control laws and allowing teachers to carry guns.

Local schools have already been working on fulfilling these needs though.

According to Hadfield, Camdenton has been building resources for students and their families in this respect with social workers now working in the schools in addition to counselors. Staff members receive training on what to look for in regards to potential threats among the school’s population.

Training also helps guide counselors and staff in helping students process emotion and reality of life in and out of school.

But one of the key pieces, says Hadfield, is the student body itself.

When they see or hear things, it is essential for them to let an adult know, and Hadfield acknowledges that there have been times when they have seen students step up about something they’ve seen or heard that didn’t feel quite right.

If an issue is recognized among school authorities, and law enforcement authorities as the need arises, counselors and social workers work with the subject and family members to connect them with resources. 

“That might be anywhere from additional counseling outside of the school counseling department, working with a psychologist or psychiatrist,” he said. “I do think [mental health] needs to be part of the discussion. There is a need, not just in cases like these violent threats or actions, but just for mental health.”

According to the long-time superintendent, he sees a larger need for mental health services in the area than there are resources available, but from his experience and network with other districts and agencies, that is the norm across the state and the country — more need than resources.

The Morgan County school is also looking at working more closely with local mental health providers.

According to Ryerson, funding for mental health services from the state has continued to shrink over time, pushing much of the burden onto local schools when it comes to kids.

For the first time through a Burrell Behavioral Health grant, MCR2 will be getting some type of mental health worker to come to the school on certain days to see students. 

One of the keys Ryerson sees is keeping communication open among agencies. In a week, school officials will be meeting with some area mental health providers to begin conversations to make sure case information is exchanged. 

The district is seeking to make sure its receives the full evaluation on students referred by them to the provider and that providers get all the information from the school about why the student was referred and other potential insights into the student that might help the provider.

This type of grassroots coordination effort could be the trend forward, according to Ryerson. Mutual exchange of information will not just help net potential threats, but also just better help students in need, she said.

For its part, School of the Osage has launched an innovative new mentoring program. In its first month, Next Generation Mentoring has matched community volunteers with each of its 123 ninth grade students in hopes of providing career pathways guidance and support as the students move through the challenges of high school and early adulthood.

This program is aimed not just at school safety, but at boosting the other overall self worth and future of all students. Additional stability and safety within school grounds could be a beneficial byproduct.

After the first meeting between students and mentors, some comments from students were: "I felt special today." "It was nice to be asked about my future." "I felt like somebody showed up in my life to care about me." 

"We can make new laws, but I am not sure we can legislate caring, kindness and compassion. We cannot force a community to make a promise to our youth," Dr. Nelson offered. "But truly, what we have done in our Osage community is make a promise to our youth. It is this promise that will help us — as a community — fight the culture of confusion and desperation that seems to incubate the conditions for these atrocious shootings," she said.

A mentoring program possibly starting in the elementary age group and building into middle school and high school is something Morgan County R-II is also studying and hopes to implement in phases, Ryerson said.

In addition to the mentoring, SOTO has programs at all buildings that work with students who are struggling. School officials monitor a variety of cues: attendance, changes in family circumstances, personal communication, changes in school performance. At each building a team or system is in place to help identify risk factors. For instance, the high school has a team called the Care Team which meets regularly to analyze needs of the student population. 

SOTO district social worker Kevin Baldwin also keeps in direct contact with homes and is able to add a second line of support to ensure the district delivers what students need such as a ride to school, a listening ear, a warm coat, a burst of encouragement.

Overall, news of mass school shootings is scary, Hadfield acknowledged, but he emphasized the importance of remembering that statistically schools are still one of the safest places you can be.

“It’s heart-wrenching. It’s supposed to be a safe haven, and I think that’s part of the psyche of this whole issue,” he said. “It’s our job to keep this place safe knowing that terrible things do happen, but we prepare ourselves the best we can to keep children safe.”