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Area schools have procedures in place for potential school violence

by Anna Campbell | November 27, 2022 at 4:02 a.m.
Liv Paggiarino/News Tribune In this October 2020 file photo, Student Resource Officer Chris Gosche and Sgt. Joseph Matherne, the Student Resource Officer Supervisor, talk outside of Jefferson City High School. School Resource Officers are one way that the district can respond immediately to any situation that may arise, Director of Safety, Facilities and Transportation Frank Underwood said.

In an age where schools have become the targets of threats and violence, Jefferson City-area schools have several measures in place in order to keep students safe.

Just last month, a gunman opened fire on Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, one of the latest attacks on a school, and for Mid-Missouri, perhaps the closest-to-home incident.

The News Tribune reached out to a few area schools to ask them how they keep students safe and what supports are in place for students who may be struggling with behavioral or mental health issues.

Helias Catholic High School

Helias Catholic High School has more than 130 cameras, said President John Knight, and monitors and controls door access to the school.

"We also pride ourselves on having great relationships with out students, knowing them -- have an excellent counseling department, teachers who are professional, are tuned into the lives of young people, know their students well," Knight said.

Measures like cameras and controlled door access have been in place for a while, Knight said, and the school also does annual and semiannual safety "checkups" to try and stay in front of the issue.

Knight said there are also safety measures in place at extracurricular events and that security for those events is in some ways easier to control because it just requires a portion of the school facilities. Police attend sporting events, the rest of the school is kept locked, cameras are in place, and a number of staff members and volunteers are on site to keep people safe, Knight said.

Counselors try to have good relationships with students and the school also maintains good relationships with alumni in law enforcement.

Students in need of mental health support can always reach out to the school's two counselors, and Helias Catholic also has a full-time chaplain who can provide a "pastoral presence," as well as a campus minister and other staff members.

"If there are particular issues that arise that need a trained professional, we refer out, and we work with some local agencies that we have relationships with, but many times you see young people that present with challenges on a daily basis that are seeing someone perhaps on the outside in a therapeutic setting," Knight said. "Then you also have young people, just because life is difficult for all of us at any given time, that they just need a really good, solid adult or advocate in their corner, and that's what I'd say is one of our strengths here with our faculty, staff and certainly our coaching staff, too."

Knight said the school has a good partnership with its parents as well in making sure students are getting the help they need.

"Like every school, you try your best to be as prepared as possible," Knight said. "I can tell you as a school leader it's something that's always on the front of my mind, is we are always thinking first and foremost about the safety, health and well-being of our young people, and in this tradition of our Catholic school also their spiritual well-being, too."

Jefferson City School District

The Jefferson City School District views safety and security as one of its most important responsibilities, said Frank Underwood, director of safety, facilities and transportation.

"Creating a secure learning environment is vitally important, and we have a number of safety measures in place including electronic surveillance, secure vestibules through which visitors must enter prior to receiving approval to enter the building, and random searches of classrooms and possessions," he said.

Additionally, JC Schools has school resource officers (SROs) for all of its buildings, which allows them to respond immediately to situations that may arise.

Extracurricular activities also have administrators and SROs on site.

Single, secure entrances were established in 2015.

"Propping or unlocking exterior doors is strictly prohibited, and we provide regular reminders to our building staff to be sure everyone understands the importance of adhering to this restriction at all times," Underwood said.

Another more recent change has been the addition of active shooter training and drills.

The shooting in St. Louis certainly caused schools to look at their plans.

"As with any school shooting incident, we pay close attention to the circumstances of each event to see whether there are things that can be learned by the greater school safety community. It is important to constantly assess and reassess our protocols and procedures so that we can adapt accordingly if ever needed," Underwood said.

When the district becomes aware of a verbal, written or online threat, it immediately investigates. When possible, the district shares information with the school community when such investigations are conducted.

When a student is the one making threats, bringing weapons to school or displaying other troubling behaviors, the school can take a variety of approaches.

"Each situation is different," said Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Bridget Frank. "Depending upon the nature of the threat and the resulting disciplinary action, students may be referred for a mental health evaluation, for school-based therapy if appropriate, or connected with community mental health partners.

"School teams work to create individualized plans for each student that focus on a comprehensive approach, including preventative strategies to minimize problematic behaviors. In addition, staff identify skills that the student may be missing and provide additional instruction to help with development in these areas."

Students who are struggling with mental health can meet with counselors, talk to social workers or school-based therapists, or work with behavior analysts or behavioral interventionists.

Blair Oaks School District

At Blair Oaks, all buildings have interior and exterior cameras, along with call buttons at each main entrance to monitor who enters the buildings. The district also has two SROs.

Over the years, the district has added more cameras, buildings and buses, along with a second SRO who began in November.

"The district continues to discuss safety on a regular basis. Recent events definitely put this at the forefront of everyone's mind," interim Superintendent Mark Harvey said.

Law enforcement and SROs are also involved in the planning for district extracurricular activities.

The district takes threats seriously and investigates them with the help of SROs. While mental health resources are limited in the area, Assistant Superintendent Kimberley Walters and Harvey said they can refer students in crisis, and staff and students receive training on breathing techniques, anxiety, depression, signs of suicide and others. Counselors try to continually compile resources for families in this area as well. There is also an online form that is available to parents, faculty and students who wish to report potential concerns anonymously.

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