Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order Wednesday at Blair Oaks High School, fast-tracking a state task force to make recommendations by the start of next school year on school safety.
Parson said to a gym full of Blair Oaks students and staff that the Missouri School Safety Task Force — to be led by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe — will submit a report of its findings and make recommendations by July 31.
"Superintendents, school principals and board members across the state are doing a great job of educating our students and preparing them for future careers. As a state, we need to ensure we are providing the tools and guidance to help them continue to do so," Parson said.
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"As a parent, a grandfather and as governor, I expect schools to be safe places from the time a student steps onto the bus in the morning, until they step off in the afternoon. As a former sheriff, I know that there are people in the world who seek to prey upon those who are often unable to protect themselves," he said.
Other members of the task force who were present at Parson's event Wednesday morning included the leaders of the state'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.
Some of those members broadened school safety to include mitigating risks from natural hazards such as fires, earthquakes and tornadoes, as well as student mental health issues such as bullying, isolation and suicide — but addressing and preventing school violence is a priority of the task force.
Sandy Karsten said the Missouri School Violence Hotline is being moved from the Department of Social Services' supervision to the Department of Public Safety's, so the hotline can be covered 24/7.
Karsten — who is the director of the Public Safety department — also said there will be a school resource officer member of the task force. She said after the event that the SRO appointment to the task force is forthcoming. The task force would also seek input from individuals and companies with school security expertise, she added — such as Bret Brooks, who was standing nearby.
Brooks is senior consultant with Gray Ram Tactical LLC, a Higginsville-based training and consulting firm that has carried out active shooter training for the Blair Oaks R-2 school district. His wife, Dawn, founded, owns and is CEO of the corporation, and their children attend Blair Oaks.
"I hope they tap into the local professionals we have here," Bret said of the state's task force, adding he's glad the state is taking the initiative to make schools safer.
"To be clear, there is no single solution to issues of school safety, and there can be no one-size-fits-all (solution)," Parson said, adding "school safety begins at the local level."
He said the hope is to assist public and private schools by giving them a framework to make school safety a priority within their systems.
Kehoe said after the event that the framework the task force will develop is not a mandate, but it can, for example, get schools to ask if they have a relationship with their local enforcement, and if they don't, identify resources for addressing that or another issue.
"We need input from local districts and local law enforcement, and we will be aggressively seeking these insights in the coming weeks," Kehoe said in a news release from the governor's office.
The news release added: "The task force will be studying the recently released Federal Commission on School Safety report from Missouri's perspective to identify gaps, shortfalls or suggested policy changes."
That federal report — available at www2.ed.gov/documents/school-safety/school-safety-report.pdf — was a joint effort between the U.S. departments of education, homeland security, health and human services, and justice, and was released in December. The federal commission was established in the wake of the February 2018 deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Parson said the timeline for Missouri's task force to make recommendations is aggressive, but it shows the seriousness of the issue.
"You can never go too fast to help people try to improve school safety," he added.
Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said after the event that "anything that results (from the work of the task force) is going to create a positive influence on school safety across Missouri.
"It's not that we haven't thought about it and we haven't talked it," Jones added, but he appreciated the cooperation between agencies that the creation of the task force showed.
The full text of Parson's executive order that established the task force is available at sos.mo.gov/library/reference/orders/2019/eo4. The order notes the task force shall dissolve once it submits its report of its findings and recommendations, "unless reauthorized or superseded by a subsequent executive order."