A two-part plan aimed at increasing protections for students in Missouri schools was heard Tuesday evening during a legislative committee meeting at the Capitol.
The House General Laws Committee discussed what is described as the Safe Schools Act, House Bill 2232. The legislation is sponsored by state Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon.
The first part of the bill requires any school district authorizing an employee to carry a concealed firearm to post a notice stating, "Under Missouri law, this school and its staff are authorized to meet threats to student safety with deadly force if necessary."
Ross said for the last three to four years, school districts in the state have had the ability to designate staff to be able to carry a concealed weapon in school but not all districts do so.
"With what we've seen recently at schools across the nation, at the bare minimum, I would love to have one of these signs at every school in the state regardless if they are designating teachers or not," he told the committee.
Under the bill, if a school district is not taking advantage of the ability to designate and arm teachers, then the district would be required to let parents or guardians know by sending them a letter saying the district has not exercised such authority. If a district has a school resource officer who carries a weapon while on school property, they do not have to send out a letter.
"I'm a parent of an 8-year-old and 9-year-old, and I absolutely want our schools to do everything they can to protect their students," Ross said.
He added part of the legislation allowing designated teachers to be concealed-carry trained makes it "non-sunshine-able," meaning the public cannot get records to determine which teachers are carrying a weapon.
"I don't know how many districts are allowing this, but the majority that I do know of are in rural settings where law enforcement would not be able to make it fast enough to the locations to make a difference if a shooting occurred," Ross said.
The second part of the bill deals with inappropriate relationships that could occur between students and school district staff.
"When you dig deeper, you find out that in many of these cases we hear about, the staff member was employed at another district and after some event, which didn't rise to the level of criminal activity at the previous district, they were given the option to resign or be fired," Ross said. "They chose to resign and nothing is entered into their personnel record, and they go 30-50 miles down the road and apply with another district and they're hired with the new district none the wiser to what led up to that person's dismissal at their old school."
Ross' bill would require the receiving district to make a phone call to the employee's previous district and find out if the employee was ever involved in some sort of inappropriate action with a student.
"I think it's incumbent on the administration of the potential receiving district to do that homework and find out if there was anything that contributed to the individual leaving their previous district," he said.
Some education associations have concerns about the bill, one of them being the Missouri National Education Association, which has spoken with Ross about language they feel might hurt district employees' due process.
MNEA does support the provision about the duty of the district to make the call inquiring about a potential new employee, but it feels there should be language calling for due process hearings, conducted pursuant to school board policies, to show there was an opportunity for the person accused to present evidence defending themself.
"I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect," Ross said. "I'm willing to work on this with all members of this committee. It comes down to an issue of safety. I've filed it the past couple of years and I'm willing to work with you all to move this bill forward to make it better."
Ross said the bill would have to make it through a couple more procedural hearings before it could be passed out of committee and sent to the House floor for debate.