Jefferson City, MO 82° View Live Radar Wed H 76° L 61° Thu H 83° L 68° Fri H 91° L 76° Weather Sponsored By:

Missouri School Safety Task Force holds last public hearing before report to governor

Missouri School Safety Task Force holds last public hearing before report to governor

May 17th, 2019 by Phillip Sitter in Missouri News

Gov. Mike Parson's Missouri School Safety Task Force held its final public hearing Thursday at the Truman State Office Building. The group, comprised of state health, education and public safety officials, will issue a report to the governor by July 31.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

Testimony for the last scheduled public hearing of Gov. Mike Parson's Missouri School Safety Task Force included Jefferson City Public Schools, the Missouri State Teachers Association and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

It will now be up to the task force — created March 13 by Parson with an executive order, and led by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe — to issue a final public report to the governor by July 31.

The task force had held five previous public hearings this month and last in Kirksville, St. Louis, Springfield, Kansas City and Poplar Bluff, before Thursday afternoon's at the Truman State Office Building in Jefferson City.

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.

Frank Underwood, JCPS director of facilities and transportation and safety and security coordinator, was the first to testify in Thursday's hearing — or as what Director of the Department of Public Safety Sandra Karsten referred to it as, "a listen and learn" session.

Underwood told the task force that JCPS has "made leaps and bounds" in its security over the past 17 months — including through tech-driven improvements to buildings' physical security, as well as different types of staff training — but he would like to see a greater availability of opportunities for school security funding beyond grants.

"It all comes down to funding," Underwood said, and schools and districts may receive the grants they apply for, or they may not. He added smaller school districts are limited in what they can do because of funding issues.

Mike Wood, who spoke for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said MSTA sent out a survey to its members a week ago, and while it's open until next week, he presented the preliminary results so far to the task force.

Of about 3,100 responses so far, Wood said more than 89 percent of teachers reported feeling safe in their classrooms.

However, 61 percent of teachers also reported they had experienced or witnessed a form of "violence" against themselves or other educators by students, parents, colleagues or administrators.

"We're going to dig down on that one a little more," he said.

According to the survey results received so far, 27 percent of teachers have also thought about leaving the profession because of safety concerns.

Wood also provided the task force with 50 pages of responses received so far to the open-ended question of what teachers want the task force to know.

Carin Huffman Grinch, a volunteer of Moms Demand Action, advocated for addressing easy access to firearms; educating, including through school-sponsored programs, on secure gun storage and locking; requiring background checks on all gun sales; adopting "red flag" protection order laws that can enable law enforcement or family members to temporarily take guns away from people determined to be threats to themselves or others; and raising the minimum age of purchasing or possessing handguns or semi-automatic rifles and shotguns to 21.

Huffman Grinch described Moms Demand Action as "a grassroots movement of Americans advocating for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence, while preserving the Second Amendment rights of responsible, law-abiding citizens," with chapters in every state, and with local groups including Columbia and Jefferson City.

She also provided the task force with a copy of the organization's joint report with the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, titled "Keeping Our Schools Safe."

Karsten commended Moms Demand Action for their efforts to be present at all of the task force's meetings.

Other testimony Thursday came from speakers from the Center for Education Safety, the Highway Patrol, a Kansas City-based school safety consulting firm and the Department of Mental Health.

More information about the task force and video recordings of the public hearings are available at mosba.org/safety-task-force.