The Iberia R-5 Board of Education is seeking public input on potentially implementing school protection officers (SPOs) as a district policy.
Board members are seeking the views of residents on whether to allow teachers and staff members to become certified to carry a concealed firearm on campuses. Guns, tasers, mace and pepper spray would be considered weapons under this policy.
The school district asks residents to participate in an anonymous survey on the issue, available online at iberia.k12.mo.us/article/39923. The survey will be discontinued at the end of this week to allow time to compile results before the Feb. 27 board meeting.
Superintendent Lyndel Whittle said the board hopes to make a decision at the March meeting, but will extend the decision-making period if necessary.
"This is not an easy decision, and we want to think it through before we act," Whittle said.
Iberia R-5 is a rural Miller County school district composed of 725 students and 110 employees. The city of Iberia is located east of the Lake of the Ozarks area, about 20 miles from Osage Beach.
According to the survey, SPOs may be needed if law enforcement is not be nearby during an armed intruder situation, when a fast response is necessary to protect students and staff members.
"The primary duty of SPOs is to respond to threatening situations where a weapon might be necessary to protect individuals on district property. They do not carry out other police duties. Nor do they make use of their weapon unless such force is absolutely necessary to protect lives. Their role is to slow down or stop an armed aggressor until law enforcement arrives," according to information provided with the survey.
The survey includes rating statements such as "Students and staff are safe from armed aggression and intruders at our school" and "Iberia R-V students and staff would be safer if there were more armed staff members at school."
The district has received more than 230 responses as of Wednesday evening, Whittle said.
"The responses have been across the board," he said. "Overall, more of the respondents have been in favor of adopting some sort of policy or practice allowing for armed staff members."
The district will announce the time and location for a public meeting about implementing SPOs on Friday.
Whittle said the district recently surveyed staff about the possibility as serving as an SPO.
"Even if they understood why the policy was being considered, not many teachers felt they would be good choices (as SPOs)," Whittle said. "However, a few indicated they would be interested in completing the training to become SPOs. If we do decide to appoint SPOs, applicants would be subject to screening to determine if they are mentally and emotionally capable of serving in that role."
John Warner, emergency planning coordinator of the Missouri School Boards' Association, said Iberia could be the first school district in the state to implement an SPO.
Certified SPOs were authorized under state law in 2014. The law defines an SPO as an elementary or secondary school teacher or administrator designated as a school protection officer by a school district. However, nobody has completed the Peace Officer Standards and Training program necessary to be certified through the Department of Public Safety.
"What we know is that no school districts, while several have shown an interest, have actually sent a teacher through the training process," Warner said. "If there have been any that have been approved, they haven't taken the next step to receive the training."
Whittle said the district also is considering the Shield Solutions program, which other Missouri school districts have implemented.
"We just want to do as much as we can to protect our kids and our staff," he said.
Shield Solutions offers a 40-hour Critical Incident Response Course and a School Employee Firearms Training program, which equip select employees to carry concealed firearms, according to the company website. While protecting their school or workplace, select employees are covered under Shield Solutions' liability insurance, should an unforeseen situation occur.
The Iberia R-5 School District is exploring the SPO issue as schools throughout the nation also attempt to confront the dangers of school shootings, such as the one that occurred Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, when 17 students and staff members of Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School were shot and killed by a former student. While some advocates have highlighted this and similar shootings as a cause for stronger gun-control laws, others have seen school gun violence as a catalyst to train and arm more "good guys" in schools to confront potential violence.
The board first considered implementing SPOs in December 2016 after the MSBA presented two policy options for the district, one including SPOs and one that did not. Whittle said he did not have enough information to comfortably recommend SPOs at the time and implemented a policy without SPOs in January 2017.
"After having time to research this topic further and researching if it might be a good fit for us, I suggested the board reconsider this policy with the use of school protection officers. It has been a topic on our agenda at every meeting since December 2017."
Whittle said the board was considering an SPO policy months before the recent Florida shooting.
"In our setting, it is possible that a police response could be several minutes away," Whittle said. "That's a long time for an armed aggressor to have access to our kids and staff with only one person on campus armed to resist them. We have an SRO (school resource officer) on campus most school days, but that person would be the first targeted by someone who wanted to do a lot of harm. We have an obligation to consider any policies or changes that may impact student and staff safety."
The district already has a team of staff members who help identify and track students who have behavioral or emotional concerns.
"As a small school, we're able to learn a lot about our kids and their situations, and we often know when something traumatic has happened," Whittle said. "We normally recognize when one of our students is behaving differently than normal. Our teachers do a good job comparing their observations of these students and making their concerns known."
Whittle said the district also has addressed security concerns by improving some exterior doors and its camera surveillance system. This summer, the district plans to install several new interior classroom doors and improve the safety and security of the high school office.
"We're already doing things to try to make our school safer, and we continue to seek out and investigate other changes that may help there," Whittle said.
Correction: Lyndel Whittle noted a school resource officer (SRO) is on campus most school days. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the officer as an SPO. The quote has since been corrected in the text above.