COMPASS participants to prioritize concerns about safety, security

Next session takes place Feb. 11 at Bernard Middle School

By BURKE WASSON

Participants at the Mehlville School District’s next community-engagement session will be asked to prioritize a number of concerns and resources related to school safety and security.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Brian Lane will present concerns and the status of the district’s levels of safety and security at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

Given that safety and security previously has been identified as a priority at past community-engagement sessions devoted to Mehlville’s overall picture, Lane has said he hopes to show a complete assessment of the district’s current levels to residents.

At the presentation, which is part of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — participants will be asked to prioritize the following concerns: natural disasters, intruders and access, bullying, vandalism, student violence and such environmental conditions as air quality.

They also will be asked to prioritize the following resources that could be devoted to school safety and security: prevention programs, security cameras, building design, counselors, social workers, administrators, hall monitors, school-resource officers, outdoor lighting and air quality.

Besides focusing on traditional aspects of school safety and security, Lane told the COMPASS Facilitating Team last week he wants to share the importance of students not only being, but feeling safe in schools.

“We want to broaden rather than narrow the perception of school safety and security,” he said. “It’s not only the physical safety of our students and staff. It’s also the emotional safety of our students in the district. Due to coverage in the media of high-profile school shootings and other acts of school violence, many people’s idea of school security strictly focuses on issues of those extreme violence when that’s really a very small part of a much larger issue and a much larger responsibility for the school district …

“Schools have so many priorities that security has traditionally become a secondary concern. It generally doesn’t get a lot of resources. It didn’t get a lot of time and effort. That has improved over the past 10 years since Columbine. But it’s still a fact mainly why schools are as safe as they are can generally be attributed to good kids and good communities.”

To illustrate how infrequent extreme violence is in the realm of school safety and security, Lane told the Facilitating Team that of all violent deaths among school-age children, less than 1 percent occur at or on the way to school or at a school-related event.

The most common school-security complaints are bullying, non-students on campus, fights and vandalism, Lane said.

“Bullying is by far our biggest threat to the physical and emotional safety of our kids,” Lane said.

National figures shared by Lane show that 80 percent of students report being bullied, students who commit bullying are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime and slightly less than 100 percent of students who were bullied said they wanted adult intervention.

He also told the Facilitating Team — comprised of residents, employees, school-board members and students — that to head off any possible intrusion from non-students into district buildings, the district already has worked to limit access to schools.

“A big focus has been on access management,” Lane said. “The Mehlville School District does have a key control system. Very few people in the district have access to master keys. Schools during the school operating hours only have one entry point that people are allowed into.”

Additionally, the district has seven school-resource officers who focus on law enforcement, counseling and education. The district also has a security guard at each high school to check all vehicles entering or exiting either campus.

As for security equipment, the district has 10 security cameras, which pales in comparison to the number of security cameras in such districts as Lindbergh’s 18 cameras, Kirkwood’s 25 cameras, Webster Groves’ 28 cameras, Clayton’s 120 cameras and Rockwood’s 800 cameras.

To combat any natural disasters, Lane said students perform drills for fire, earthquakes and tornadoes as well as drills for intruders.

Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler said that if a natural disaster were to occur, the district also might want to consider the needs of the community as a whole as public-school buildings can be utilized as shelters in such emergency cases.

“I view, as most communities do, our schools during a natural disaster as a place to go,” he said. “None of our school buildings have generators … If we had a horrendous tornado of some type where we’ve got major-league damage or we’ve got an earthquake with major-league damage, the center of where people go are school-district buildings … I personally think that the community would support, and I certainly would, generators. And I know that that’s one big price tag to get our buildings powered up and going as a place to go.”

Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson Hussman Architects also reminded the Facilitating Team that in case of an earthquake, only three buildings in the entire district measure up to current seismic standards.

“We need to understand in this community that many of our school buildings are old,” he said. “And they were built before current seismic codes went into effect. So in reality, the only three buildings that we have here right now that meet seismic needs are Bernard, Oakville Elementary and the John Cary Early Childhood Center … When you’re looking at a place of refuge for our community … you get them into an old, two-story building, that’s a death trap when it comes to seismic.”