Educators, safety officials conduct online talk on school violence

Friday, October 20, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Educators and safety officials said Thursday that it's important for schools to strike a balance between safety and school access in planning against shootings or other violence.

The state Department of Public Safety and the Missouri School Boards' Association led an online program to talk about school safety issues. The meeting was planned after a spate of school shootings around the country in recent weeks, but took on added importance in Missouri last week when a 13-year-old student entered a Joplin middle school and fired one shot before his assault rifle jammed.

Joplin superintendent Jim Simpson said the district is analyzing how well its emergency plan worked.

But he emphasized that plans must be simple, so administrators can know them and respond quickly, rather than hunting for a thick binder of material in the midst of a changing situation. In Joplin, for example, the situation changed from a student with a rifle to concern about explosives hidden in the building.

"Obviously it is key to keep it simple enough that it can be memorized," state Public Safety Director Mark James said. "It does need to be practiced."

Simpson also said school officials and local law enforcement need to plan together and know what to expect from each other when crisis strikes.

The panel of educators, law enforcement and other safety officials also discussed how to improve security at schools without making them seem like fortresses. But some said that no amount of cameras and locked doors will stop someone determined to do harm.

Carter Ward, executive director of the Missouri School Boards' Association, said schools and communities can determine what level of visible security measures they want, but said it's also important for school teachers, staff and students to watch for strange behaviors from students or others.

The panel also discussed resources schools have available for safety training, including a free online planning tool and help from the Missouri Center for Safe Schools in Kansas City.

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