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Mid-MO School Safety Questioned

For many parents, around 40 hours a week, the care and safety of their child lies with the school they attend. Numbers ABC 17 News pulled from the state show violent acts are up in Columbia Public Schools and weapon offenses are up in Jefferson City Schools.Right now, schools across the nation are reviewing security protocol and making changes in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook that killed 20 children. Schools in Mid-Missouri are also looking to see what more can be done. While reviews are underway, we wanted to see if the security protocols currently in place are enough. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education tracks incidents in schools. Pulling those numbers, we found in 2011 there were two violent acts in Columbia, that rose to four in 2012. A student using physical force is considered a violent act. The number of students bringing weapons to school stayed the same. In Jefferson City, while no violent acts were recorded the last two years, weapon offenses went from seven to ten. While those incidents deal with students, officials say it’s the threat from the outside that has them wanting to speed up security improvements. “I stay up at night worrying about, have we thought through all the possible things that we’re responsible for to think through,” said CPS Superintendent Chris Belcher.Many school officials are pouring over security plans to see where gaps may be. Belcher says one gap he wants to focus on now is getting more school resource officers. In the past couple of years, the number of SROs has dropped from eight to four, but Belcher says they are trying to get those back.However, funding is tight. The district has two safety and security coordinators and the SROs are at Hickman, Rock Bridge and the core center. One rotates between all of the middle and junior high schools.”My assignment ends up being an enforcement position where I refer kids to the juvenile office who have committed crimes,” said Officer John Warner. “That takes a majority of my job. I try when I can to get into classrooms and talk with kids in non-enforcement ways.”While SROs are not assigned to elementary schools, Columbia police and Boone County Sheriff’s deputies have recently started a new effort where officers try to make daily stops at those schools. Teachers like the effort but still have concerns. “We would definitely as teachers like to have an SRO in every building,” said Gentry Middle School teacher Dean Klempke.Klempke says they have ten sets of doors at the school, some of which are unlocked for students to come back and forth from trailers.Belcher says this brings up two issues he wants to tackle: more controlled access in schools and getting rid of trailers. He says one way to limit access to schools is to make sure side doors are locked.The district also wants to monitor who’s coming in the main doors. At many schools, the office is right in front, but at older locations it may be deeper in the building, like at Douglass High School, where they have installed a buzz-in system. That allows the secretary to see who’s at the door and to decide whether to let them in.Belcher wants to get this buzz-in system in every elementary building by the end of the year. While that goal is in the near future, getting rid of trailers is not. The opening of Battle High School will get rid of about 48, but about 100 trailers will remain.”The more trailers you have, the more problems you’ll have because you have to get more access in and out with the students,” Belcher explained.The district will be increasing the number of cameras at schools. Right now there are more than 1,000 throughout the district. After some recent incidents like an assault at Jeff Junior, Belcher wants more outside cameras.”This was the parking lot right over here where a teacher was assaulted this past fall,” Belcher pointed out. “And as a result of that, that’s why that camera went up.”Something constantly happening in the district is active shooter training. Not just for teachers, but for students too.

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