By Gloria Lloyd
With school security weighing heavily on the minds of parents, local cities and school districts are doing what they can to beef up security measures.
Since the Feb. 14 school massacre in Parkland, Florida, and the latest shooting last week in Santa Fe, Texas, state, city and school district officials are trying to figure out what steps can be taken to prevent a similar tragedy from happening locally.
Sunset Hills and Crestwood officials are working closely with Lindbergh Schools to tighten security in schools.
Lindbergh had a security scare of its own May 10 when a typed bomb threat was found in the boys’ locker room at Sperreng Middle School. The school was evacuated and searched by the St. Louis County Police Department and K-9 dogs, who found nothing. But the district won kudos on social media from parents who were pleased with the communication during the incident and the district’s actions, keeping students out of school but also keeping parents informed.
But the district had been ramping up security measures even before that incident.
After Parkland, Rep. David Gregory brought officials from the Lindbergh, Mehlville and Rockwood districts together with county police to discuss what could be done at the state level and locally to make students safer.
After those talks, Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby intervened to meet with Lindbergh. He even floated the idea at a Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting that the district could levy a dedicated school-security tax to pay for more security.
At the same time, Sunset Hills Police Chief Steve Dodge began conferring with officials from Lindbergh, the Special School District and private schools in Sunset Hills to better educate officers from the Sunset Hills Police Department on how to intervene in a crisis.
Lindbergh Superintendent Jim Simpson addressed all those efforts in a letter to parents sent last week after the Santa Fe shooting.
“I am struggling to understand how an event this horrific has become anything other than an extremely rare, almost unheard-of occurrence,” Simpson wrote. “During times like these, it is important to reach out and remind our entire community that now, more than ever, we are acutely focused on safety in our own schools. We challenge ourselves to do everything in our power to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place here in Lindbergh, because first and foremost, our schools must be safe, secure places for students to learn. Your student’s safety is always our No. 1 concern.”
To that end, Lindbergh is continuing its collaborations with its three police departments, Sunset Hills, Crestwood and the county.
The district has two school-resource officers, or SROs, one at the high school and one at the middle-school level. The board approved the new contract in April for $152,000.
When it comes to Roby’s idea of a special security tax, Simpson said, “Those are new words in my ear, I’ve never heard of such a tax. Could it be done? Yeah. But my first thought would be what are you buying with that money? We’ve got cameras out the yang… So you’re buying people, that’s all that left, officers. policemen in the hallways. And we do that actually.”
The district does not have SROs stationed at its six elementary schools, and Simpson doesn’t see that happening. But the culture changes with each successive school shooting, he noted.
Dodge has emphasized more training for his officers in the Sunset Hills Police Department since he took over more than a year ago. The department has also conducted active-shooter training for private schools and the public in recent months. Every officer has undergone MACTAC, or Multi-Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities.
“We’re going at it from both ends, from the police end to make sure we’re trained, and with schools and businesses, teaching them how to prevent it and how to be safer,” the chief said. “Even before the school shooting down in Florida, with all the businesses and schools here in Sunset Hills, it’s very important that we be prepared for it. It’s something I took seriously from the day I got here, so we’re trying to be as prepared as we can be, God forbid it ever happens.”
Sunset Hills officers are regularly conducting walk-throughs of the city’s public and private schools — Truman Middle School in Lindbergh and SSD’s South County Technical High School and Southview School, St. Justin Martyr, St. Thomas Holy Spirit Learning Center, the St. Lucas United Church of Christ preschool and Casa de Montessori. But the SHPD would respond to schools outside of its boundaries too.
Sunset Hills officers now have key cards to all Lindbergh schools and blueprints of the buildings so that they can better respond during an incident.
Roby is meeting with Lindbergh, City Administrator Kris Simpson and Crestwood Chief Ron Compton in the “spirit of safety and our children and our schools,” he said.
The Crestwood mayor initially kicked off the conversation by posting on Facebook, “The best solutions will only come from our local efforts to protect our children. We can’t take a position that it can’t happen here.”
He offered a number of suggestions. He wondered whether city officials could be notified when people buy multiple guns or large amounts of ammunition from local gun stores and whether the city should post officers at the city’s four schools and whether a statewide gun database should be set up.