School districts ready response to safety threats

Monday, November 28, 2005

Educators guard against potential violence on school grounds.

In the era of school shootings and terrorist attacks, school administrators have to quickly evaluate any threat made by a student.

Recently at Jefferson Elementary School a student was suspended for five days for bringing a plastic gun to the school in his backpack.

"He was suspended for five days even though there was no actual threat made with it; he brought it in a backpack," Jefferson principal Mark Cook said. "It was a toy, it was a broken toy."

A verbal threat can equal a suspension, but a threat with a weapon, or in this case a fake weapon, is a bigger deal, Cook said.

"I always take the side of being a little overly cautious," Cook said.

The Safe School Act was passed in 1996 and was designed to make Missouri schools safer places for both teachers and students. The law means tougher penalties for students charged with assault and drug possession on school property and requires schools to share a student's discipline record.

"We try to let the Safe Schools Act be our guide and work within that," Scott City superintendent Diann Bradshaw said.

While schools in the area have to follow a district policy, school principals can, for example, determine the length of suspension.

There is a certain amount of discretion on the part of the principal depending on what is involved and the type of incident, Cape Girardeau Schools superintendent Dr. David Scala said.

"On those situations the principals have to interpret and make decisions and have some discretion in determining what they think the most appropriate action is based upon the policy," Scala said.

Jackson and Scott City's policies are similar to Cape's.

An administrative review will be held after any verbal, written, pictorial or symbolic threat, the policy states.

The review begins with a principal and student conference and parent notification. The student will then be assigned an after-school detention, an in-school suspension or an out-of-school suspension, depending on the severity of the offense.

"You have to take each individual scenario to see what the degree is, age of the child, whether it's the first or second time and how serious the weapon is and then they determine what to do," Jackson superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson said.

Bradshaw said they take the same criteria in consideration for a threat situation.

Scott City schools are always looking at ways to improve safety for the students, Bradshaw said.

For example, this fall Scott City Elementary principal Courtney Kern changed the playground supervision policy to give teachers a specific area to supervise ensuring all students are monitered at all times.

The district regularly looks to improve their policy because there are certain situations that come along that have never happened before, and they have to decide how they're going to deal with it and try to use the same method in the same situation the next time, Bradshaw said.

"We're always striving to improve it," Bradshaw said.

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