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story.lead_photo.caption The Missouri Governor's School Safety Task Force meet Thursday, May 16, 2019, at the Truman State Office Building in Jefferson City. Photo by Mark Wilson / News Tribune.

Where districts can afford them and have approved of them, every school should have an armed officer to protect students, according to a report from the Missouri Governor's School Safety Task Force.

The task force, which Gov. Mike Parson created with an executive order, was asked to study the federal government's school safety report. The federal report was commissioned following the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead.

Members of the group gathered input from Missourians to identify gaps, shortfalls or suggested policy changes to provide frameworks that help connect schools with an array of safety issues.

Among those providing information for the report during public discussions were staff members from the Missouri State Teachers Association, according to Todd Fuller, MSTA director of communication.

The MSTA surveyed teachers about school safety in May, he said.

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More than 3,000 teachers weighed in.

"We were surprised how many members responded. We took all that open-ended information to the task force," Fuller said.

The survey asked teachers how they would manage school safety.

"We had some members say they were fine with arming teachers in the classroom," he continued. "We had many more say they weren't fine with that."

Missouri has allowed individual school districts to decide for themselves whether they would arm teachers in classrooms, according to the report. Yet most of the state's districts have chosen not to do so.

Whether a district has chosen to arm teachers or not, communication between districts, consumers and law enforcement must be improved, according to the report. And Missouri should have a statewide school safety coordinator to "harmonize school safety efforts among state departments," according to the report.

The coordinator would also be a resource for sharing information among school districts and the public.

Each school already has someone in charge of safety, according to Matt Michelson, MSTA government relations manager.

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"(Within) the report — they're looking at just getting more uniformity on a lot of those issues," Michelson said. "That seems to be a theme throughout the report: trying to develop best practices."

The intent is to give administrators and school districts better guidance, he said.

"In Missouri, we have a very strong tradition of local control when it comes to public education. (Task force members) were careful to consider that in the report in several places," Michelson said. "They were making sure that things would be feasible or acceptable for districts."

The nine-member task force — led by Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and made up of lawmakers, state education officials and public safety officials (including state Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County, and Cole County Sheriff's Capt. Kevin Woodson) — said school districts must improve emergency operations plans and be more willing to share them with emergency officials.

All drills should be conducted in conjunction with emergency officials, the report says.

The report calls for Missouri administrators to designate a state agency to synchronize mental health, behavioral risk and other related programs across state agencies and promote youth mental health first aid training. It calls on schools to have staff members who are trained in mental health first aid.

It also recommends that Missouri "ensure evidence-based mental health and behavioral risk programs are in place and available to students and families" who need them.

It recommends that the state address cybersecurity concerns.

The report blames "sensational" media coverage for exacerbating the trauma of those affected by school shootings and perpetuating additional shootings.

Social media only amplifies the problem, according to the report.

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"In the absence of traditional journalistic tools — like editorial discretion — social media allows for the wide dissemination of information, where nearly every individual can be a contributor and a consumer (including would-be shooters)," the report states.

The report leaves a lot of teachers' concerns off the table, Michelson said.

It focuses on school safety from outside threats, he continued.

And it doesn't incorporate ideas from teachers, he said.

"When the task force was formed, there were no in-school personnel put on it," Michelson said. "So I think there's a lack of that input from teachers or other professional staff."

The report's recommendations resulted from "extensive debate among a broad range of stakeholders," according to the report. "Some are simple to implement. Others are more complicated. All are intended to bring about substantive improvements to school safety."

The MSTA's survey of teachers found discipline — another area not considered by the task force — as a factor affecting threats within schools.

"When we think about school safety, globally, people think about the active shooter situation," Michelson said. "Our people, who are in the classroom all day, see all kinds of situations."

They see abusive language, violent actions and other activities that can escalate, he said.

"Are the correct actions being taken for the activities I see?" he said. "That is not addressed in the report."

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