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Armed school officers? Missouri task force suggests it's one way to keep students safe

Armed school officers? Missouri task force suggests it's one way to keep students safe

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JEFFERSON CITY — Every Missouri school should have an armed law enforcement officer on hand to respond quickly to an active shooter, a new report says.

After four months of work, a special task force headed by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe recommended the idea as one piece of an overall plan designed to keep students safe and to help them cope with the emotional strain if something does happen.

“Where economically feasible and embraced by local governance, schools should have the benefit of an armed school resource officer or an armed school protection officer in every school to provide an immediate response in the event of an active shooter situation,” the report noted.

The panel, which included school and law enforcement officials and mental health professionals, began meeting in April at the request of Republican Gov. Mike Parson.

The group used the federal government's school safety report commissioned in the wake of the 2018 deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as a template for asking Missourians about how to keep schools safe.

The task force’s work comes as communities across the nation grapple with the aftermath of children being targeted by school shooters.

In Florida, state lawmakers funneled $400 million toward a variety of school safety initiatives following the incident at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and 17 wounded.

Missouri has set aside $300,000.

The report does not call for a statewide plan to be adopted by all school districts. Rather, it said specific details should be dictated at the local level in response to local needs.

“Missouri schools are each unique. What works very well in an urban or affluent school to promote school safety may not be possible in a rural or economically challenged school,” the report noted.

Under current guidelines offered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, all schools should have a safety coordinator. The panel found, however, that there is no language in the guidelines that defines job duties, roles, training or expectations for this position.

“The amount of effort assigned staff put into this role varies greatly from district to district as does the amount of initial and ongoing training,” the task force said.

The panel also made no mention of arming teachers or placing metal detectors inside entrances.

The group found that while many schools have conducted security site assessments, no standard template is being used. As an example, officials said most schools gauge threats as coming from an outside source and don’t consider potential threats from within a school.

The group also found there is no comprehensive school safety training catalog, listing offerings across all state departments and programs or organizations.

“As a result, efforts are often duplicated. In some instances, instruction given by one organization is directly at odds with policy or that of another partner,” the report noted.

The panel also recommended the state offer a set of standards for conducting drills and exercises.

“Often drills are conducted without a clear understanding by all parties involved of what is being tested or evaluated, and little to no documentation of the results to help correct deficiencies,” the report said.

Along with Kehoe, members of the panel included Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten, Commissioner of Education Marjorie Vandeven, Department of Mental Health Director Mark Stringer, Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, Rep. Jerome Barnes, D-Raytown, Missouri School Boards’ Association Director Melissa Randol, Cole County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Kevin Woodson and Paul Fennewald, Missouri Center for Education Safety.

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