South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Proposal to arm educators not well-received, police chief says

Area school officials to meet with county police in 30 days

Area school district officials had “very little stomach” for the idea of having trained and qualified educators armed, according to St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch.

“Maybe three hands went up (in favor of exploring the possibility of arming educators),” said Fitch, who talked with district officials last week during a Safe Schools Partnership meeting at Parkway High School.

The meeting occurred after the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Eric Cochran, Lindbergh Schools director of curriculum and student programs, attended the Dec. 20 meeting and told the Call Lindbergh officials would “prefer to see some other options explored before we were to ever go down that road.”

However, Cochran said district officials have not “necessarily zeroed in” on what they would prefer instead of arming and training school personnel.

“I think I feel confident in saying our schools are pretty safe, but anything we think would make them safer would be an option that we would be interested in exploring,” he said.

Mehlville School District Superintendent Eric Knost, who also attended the meeting, told the Call he is “much more interested in adding to our uniformed police officer force within the Mehlville School District” than arming school officials.

The theme from law enforcement and school officials at the Safe Schools Partnership meeting, according to Cochran, is not to have “knee-jerk reactions to this event.”

“There are probably things that we can do in the immediate future to try to implement some little changes, but we also have to think about the consequences of any long-term changes we would make …,” he said. “We don’t want to be rash with our decision making.”

Many safety measures were put in place for Lindbergh Schools after the Columbine shooting, according to Cochran, and similar to other school districts, Lindbergh is assessing all of its building security.

When the district’s elementary schools and Truman, which is now a middle school, were renovated, Lindbergh Board of Education President Vic Lenz said they were designed with the ability to “put the whole school on lockdown.”

Individual teachers can lock classrooms from the inside, according to Lenz.

Lindbergh Superintendent Jim Simpson said he will recommend to the Board of Education in January installing lockdown door locks at Lindbergh High School and Sperreng Middle School, with installation to occur during the school year as opposed to waiting until the summer. The estimated cost of the door locks for 327 doors is roughly $212,000, according to Simpson.

Lindbergh High School and district middle schools have one school resource officer, or SRO, per building, but Cochran said it may be time to “start exploring the use of (school resource officers) at elementary schools.”

“That’s not a cheap thing to do,” Cochran said. “You have to find ways to make that affordable, but those are areas I think that a lot of districts will be looking at.”

It costs $50,000 per officer, per school for an SRO, Fitch said. SROs are only on campus for the school year and return to the county Police Department for three months during the summer, according to Fitch, unless they remain at their designated building for summer school.

SROs are funded by school districts, Fitch said, not by county funds.

Though there are not SROs at the elementary level, Cochran said Lindbergh SROs would “respond to any crisis at any of our buildings.” Safety measures for each building level are “based on a group dialogue,” according to Cochran.

“Obviously, everybody here is a stakeholder in this, and if there’s any area at any one of our levels that we felt was in need of being beefed up or improved upon we would explore that option,” he said. “I think every time one of these events happens it forces you as a school district to re-evaluate what you’ve been doing, and that’s happening all over the country, obviously.”

The Mehlville School District currently has SROs at Oakville and Mehlville senior highs and its four middle schools, according to Knost, and the middle school SROs “split duty” at some elementary schools.

Mehlville already had “a lot of deterrents” in place before the Sandy Hook shooting, Knost said, including buzzer systems at elementary and middle schools.

After Christmas break, Knost said both high schools also will have buzzer systems. The superintendent also has asked schools to revisit their practices when people push the buzzer.

“I’m requiring that all of our schools take their time, have a conversation with the person to assess why they’re there, who they’re there for and if there is any concern whatsoever about the legitimacy of why they are there …,” he said.

Knost would also like to move the SRO offices near the front doors of all district buildings. He also is considering adding secondary police officers — off-duty officers hired by the district — to the budget, “ramping up police officers” through elementary schools or expanding SRO officers. He expects to present information regarding such endeavors to the Board of Education at its Jan. 10 meeting.

Regarding safety measures at each building level, Knost said that may be what is “changing a little bit.”

“I don’t think we can differentiate that anymore,” he said.

However, Knost said he always has been a believer that the more deterrents that are in place, while “maintaining a comfortable environment” for children to learn, “the safer our kids are going to be.”

“What I remind parents is that there are evil people in the world, but I’m happy to tell them that on a daily basis, they’re surrounded by far more people that love and care and want to nurture their children than they are evil people …,” he said. “I believe the more police officers we can have intermixed in our population, the safer our kids are going to be.”

Fitch said the following topics were also discussed last week:

• School building threat-assessment tours.

• ALICE — Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate — Training.

School officials will meet with county police in 30 days, after they have met with their respective school boards, according to Fitch.

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