A presentation to the Jefferson City Public Schools Board of Education last Monday on the results of two school safety surveys suggests there's not much enthusiasm among district staff and families about arming teachers, but the community has plenty of other ideas to improve school safety.
The question of whether schools should arm teachers has been a subject of national conversation after the most recent school massacre by firearm to receive extensive national attention — at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, where 17 people died and a largely student-led movement against gun violence began in the aftermath.
JCPS Director of Quality Improvement Brenda Hatfield shared with the board Monday the results of two surveys about school safety the district had opened together in March in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting — one survey for faculty and staff and another for students' families.
The surveys asked participants to rate their responses to statements such as, "The school takes all threats and rumors of violence seriously," or "School rules and expectations are clear and well-known." Other topics included schools' emergency response plans, emergency drills, resources for students, bullying, and physical security measures and supplies.
Survey participants were able to provide open-ended responses. These responses are where the subject of arming teachers came up, or didn't.
There were 440 open-ended responses by families, and fewer than 30 mentioned guns, concealed-carry or other such related terms — about 6.8 percent of the open-ended responses. Of those 30 or so responses, Hatfield said, about two-thirds were in favor of arming teachers and the other one-third expressed opposition to the idea.
Among faculty and staff, three people gave answers explicitly against arming teachers, and no one else discussed the subject either way.
The greatest concern among faculty and staff — at least of those who responded to the survey — is whether schools have adequate resources for students with mental health issues.
"That is the least positive response that we got," Hatfield told the board.
Other chief concerns for faculty and staff were "student behaviors, discipline and how this impacts safety as well as building climate" and bullying — prevention, discipline and reporting.
Faculty and staff's concerns lined up almost one to one with families' — who noted bullying as their top concern, followed by mental health resources, drugs in high school and student behaviors.
"Bullying was one of the big areas for us, and this is the one where I got the most passionate responses," Hatfield said. "Our staff provided more than 100 ideas, programs and comments just about bullying."
Regarding student behavior, "there was a general consensus that we had adequate rules, but consequences were not always carried out in a similar fashion when issues occurred," she said. Families tended to share that concern about consistency.
Hatfield described generally that many people who responded to open-ended questions were enthusiastic about having a chance to voice their concerns and ideas.
"These people were very passionate in their responses that they wanted to give us. One of them is actually a three-page response that has cited different things that I need to go look up and we need to do some more research on," she said.
Other ideas put forth by staff or families included increasing the number of school resource officers or other security staff in the district, installing metal detectors, adding security cameras monitored by law enforcement, smaller class sizes, and alternative placements for disruptive students.
Hatfield ended her presentation by outlining the next steps following the surveys — continued data analysis to get a clearer picture by building or by grade level; reviewing installation of an integrated alert system; continuing to schedule live law enforcement-led intruder training; and reviewing staff supports for addressing student behavioral issues.
Overall, 79 percent of families who responded to the survey said their student feels safe at school, and 73 percent believe their child is safe at school.
Families rated 11 of 20 questions at 70 percent or higher — the measure Hatfield said the district considers good in this case. Faculty and staff rated 11 of 19 questions above 70 percent.
The district employs 1,478 people. Hatfield reported the survey response rate among faculty — who are certified staff — was 54 percent, and 21 percent among non-certified staff.
"More than 1,900 students were represented by the (family) survey responses," Hatfield said — about a 22 percent response rate. "We felt that was pretty good, especially given one of the weeks was spring break. More than 50 percent of the respondents actually had more than one child in the district."
Fifty-six percent of the family responses came from the elementary level, and the rest were evenly split between middle and high school.