The Missouri School Safety Task Force presented its findings Tuesday on how schools in the state can provide a safer environment for students.
Governor Mike Parson signed an executive order back in March of this year to create the task force, which went out and received public input while also researching and identifying strengths, best practices and challenges for schools, districts and the community.
The task force identified key areas where Missouri schools could improve: Training and drills, eliminating legal and statutory barriers, physical and security technology, SROs and school safety coordinators, high-quality emergency plans, grants and funding, and cyber safety.
The task force was chaired by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, and was made up of eight other members, including Melissa Randol, the executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.
“We listened to any and all kinds of perspectives on school safety,” Randol said. “And we also had another hearing just for students. That was incredibly enlightening as well. We took online comments if individuals could not make it to one of the hearings and we also had a portal on our website for anyone to provide input there.”
The task force held six separate hearings across the state of Missouri, and the Missouri Teachers Association sent out a survey to their members, resulting in thousands of additional comments.
When asked of the impetus behind such a task force in the first place, Randol said, “Missouri has, particularly over the last 13 years, really been a leader in school safety across the nation. … But it’s always important to do self-reflection and make sure we’re continuing to provide the support that we need to provide, and of course keep children safe in our schools.”
Randol said that information-sharing is important for Missouri schools and organizations, allowing them to learn best practices from each other. She used the National School Safety Alliance as reference, a way for 49 centers for education and safety to ally with each other and communicate in detailed calls each month.
She also said that one of the task force’s recommendations, a 24/7 tip line for receiving tips about school issues and school violence, already is being implemented through Courage2ReportMO (Courage2Reportmo.com).
“And what we were trying to do is not create some template that’s a one-size-fits-all for every school district,” Randol said. “You know, what makes sense for St. Joe and its needs may not make sense for a district in rural Missouri. We knew that good practices would make sense for all districts, and we tried to focus on that, but not create a bunch of mandates that everybody had to do that was so specific that it may not fit your district. We wanted to create good suggestions that would keep your children safe, regardless of the setting they’re sitting in, in terms of their school.”
The task force also touched on mental health and behavioral risk among students, stressing that the state should attempt to devote additional resources in that area to ensure communities have access to things like behavioral risk assessment training.
“Our teachers said it over and over again that that is an issue for them,” Randol said of behavioral issues. “(We need to) ensure safety and focus on academics in the classroom when we’re dealing with outbursts or bad behaviors. We need to provide additional resources and support for our teachers.”
Emergency operation plans that are developed and maintained in cooperation with the community and law enforcement also were stressed in the task force’s discussions.
She went on to clarify that the task force did not recommend arming teachers in schools, though they did suggest additional resources be devoted to highly trained individuals such as school resource officers or school protection officers.
“Now highly trained law enforcement embedded in our schools are in partnership with local law enforcement, or school protection officers. Those were created in 2014 by the Missouri General Assembly, and they allow a highly trained individual who’s an employee of the district to be trained to know how to react … that would be in place of a school resource officer if you can’t afford it or don’t have access to a school protection officer. That’s something we’ve had in the law for several years anyway. But we feel like those kinds of positions need to have significant professional training.”
The task force’s full report can be viewed at https://ltgov.mo.gov under the School Safety Task Force category.