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State's school safety task force discusses its goals, organizes internal leaders

State's school safety task force discusses its goals, organizes internal leaders

March 26th, 2019 in Local News

Mike Kehoe

Photo by News Tribune /News Tribune.

Gov. Mike Parson's school safety task force — led by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe — met Monday afternoon in Jefferson City to get things going on work that will likely involve a series of public meetings across Missouri before the task force issues a final public report to the governor by July 31.

Parson created the Missouri School Safety Task Force on March 13 with an executive order he signed at Blair Oaks High School.

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The members of the school safety group include the leaders of Missouri's departments of Public Safety, Mental Health, and Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as the executive director of the Missouri School Boards' Association and a senior policy advisor to the Center for Education Safety.

They are tasked with studying the federal government's school safety report commissioned in the wake of the 2018 deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and gathering input from Missourians to identify gaps, shortfalls or suggested policy changes, so public and private schools in the state can be given frameworks to identify resources for addressing a broad array of school safety issues.

The issues also include natural disasters and mental health concerns.

Kehoe's Chief of Staff Adam Gresham said Monday that the exact form that recommendations will come in as part of the final report will be for the task force to decide.

"Do you want to do it on issues, and on specific threats, or do you want to do it more general? And I don't know the answer to that, but I want it to be — I think my understanding from the governor is that it's a useful tool that you could give to a school administrator and say, 'Here's some of the issues that you may be facing. Here's what we would suggest. Here's some baseline activities or some baseline preparation that we think you should have in place' — whether that be contact with your police department, make sure you know your sheriff, make sure that you have shared blueprints and stuff with your schools so that they can take substantive action. To me, that seems more useful to a school than just a general plan about more training," Gresham said.

"To me, being in the schools for so long, they want a resource," Capt. Kevin Woodson said.

Woodson, of the Cole County Sheriff's Department, is representing all of the state's school resource officers on the task force, and said specific emergency plans vary from school to school and "to me, it's all about the resource. (Schools have) identified the problems, but where do we go for help?"

Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards' Association, mentioned the MSBA is developing an emergency operation plan to be made available online to all public and private schools later this year. Randol added that specific response details should remain at the local level, but the task force can provide guidance on broader concepts.

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Gresham also led the group Monday afternoon in discussing tentative locations, dates and times of public meetings of the task force to gather testimony — likely at least a couple public and private K-12 schools, and likely in multiple cities in different parts of the state, such as Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Jefferson City, Kirksville or Poplar Bluff — parameters of testimony and suggestions for the task force's draft mission statement.

Gresham said after the organizational meeting Monday that updates of future meeting details would continue to be posted on the website of the lieutenant governor's office — ltgov.mo.gov.

The task force voted that Director of the Department of Public Safety Sandy Karsten be the group's co-chair. Paul Fennewald, who is the senior policy advisor to the Center for Education Safety, was voted to be the task force's administrator. Gresham will be the group's recorder, and the lieutenant governor's office will continue to be the spokes-entity for the task force.