As she met with parents this week, Superintendent Susan Johnson of the Hannibal public school district answered multiple questions regarding planned school-safety training. She also heard a variety of suggestions intended to enhance school-safety measures that are already in place.
Among the parental recommendations proposed has been the hiring of more school resource officers (SRO), hiring retired police officers and military personnel for additional in-building security, utilize parent volunteers to serve as school grounds monitors, the installation of metal detectors and the arming of teachers.
“The Hannibal school district has always made the safety and security of our school district a top priority,” said Johnson, adding that safety and security measures are “continually discussed” by the school board. “Over the past several years, thousands of dollars have been invested into various safety features throughout our district. Enhancing the safety of our school district is an ongoing responsibility in which all options are considered. The Hannibal school district continues to identify funds to be utilized to ensure that safety is continually added.”
The funding that has made the hiring of SROs possible represents a partnership.
“The Hannibal school district is fortunate to have a supportive city government that has earmarked funds to help pay for not only one but two school resource officers,” said Johnson. “Additional SROs would be ideal if money allows. Currently, the Hannibal school district pays for one-half of the salaries of each SRO while the city of Hannibal picks up the other one-half of the salaries.”
The arming of school personnel is one of the most controversial points in the school-safety discussion that has arisen since 17 people were killed last month by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. While Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said earlier this month that arming teachers “should be an option for states and communities to consider,” Johnson is not ready to embrace the option.
“The thought of bringing guns into our schools is a difficult concept to wrap my mind around,” she said. “Teachers have challenging jobs as it is and their attention needs to continue to be on educating our children. However, the school district continues to evaluate all options for providing better security at our schools.”
Johnson added she has not received any feedback regarding the arming of faculty members from the two teacher unions in Hannibal. The arming of teachers in a district would require the approval of its school board before such a policy could be implemented.
Elsewhere in NEMO
Area school superintendents shied away from speaking on the record regarding the arming of teachers. One district official said commenting on that topic would “open up a can of worms in my community.” They were, however, more than happy to discuss what their respective district is doing to protect students and staff.
“The Palmyra R-1 School District has been fortunate to have formed a partnership with the city of Palmyra five years ago to provide a full-time school resource officer in our schools,” said Superintendent Kirt Malone. “Our SROs are law enforcement officers who have all the rights of city, county and state police officers. School resource officers have special training to work in the school setting. School resource officers are allowed to carry their weapons with them in school buildings.
“Our SRO provides an additional layer of security for our students and staff that we never had before. Our SRO attends home athletic events, as well as other evening school events throughout the district. Rural schools are just beginning to provide SRO services. As we move forward we will begin to see more school districts implement the SRO security model to protect students and staff during the school day.”
In the Ralls County R-II School District, safety drills are a periodic part of the school day.
“We practice fire, tornado, earthquake and intruder drills multiple times throughout the school year. After each drill our administration team reflects on the experience and recommends changes to improve in the future,” said Superintendent Dr. Tara Lewis. “The Ralls County Sheriff Department and Missouri Highway Patrol regularly supports our safety practices and offer ideas, practice materials, scenario advice and prevention support. Our students are asked for feedback after drills, too. We want to ensure they feel comfortable with multiple situations so the likelihood they will react appropriately is certain. Our faculty members are asked for feedback after each drill so we can use over 100 possible perspectives to work out any problems in our planning.”
The district’s focus on protecting its students and staff doesn’t begin and end with drills.
“Our facilities are constantly being evaluated for safety and security improvements,” said Lewis. “Each month at the regular board of education meeting, student safety is an agenda item to ensure this topic stays at the forefront of our planning.”
Lewis recognizes the importance of getting information dispersed when a security problem arises on school grounds.
“During emergencies we communicate with parents to give updates about the event and any changes that are occurring.” she said.
In Monroe City, the district’s safety and security protocols are frequently assessed, according to Superintendent Tracy Bottoms.
“The Monroe City R-I School District reviews our district crisis/safety plan multiple times per year,” said Bottoms. “Annually, we provide intruder training to our faculty and staff from one of our area law enforcement agencies. Our district holds intruder drills with our students and staff multiple times per year.”
Bottoms noted that other safety-related measures are currently in the works.
“We’re working with multiple companies to review the cost of additional security doors and locks in other parts of our district. Currently, all front door entrances have buzz-in systems,” said the superintendent. “The district is currently working on a violence threat assessment check list.
“The district continues to work with local law enforcement in regards to continued school safety.”
By Trevor McDonald | Hannibal Courier-Post