Thursday’s Mehlville School District town hall meeting provided a chance for parents to voice their questions and concerns—not surprisingly, several of them focused on school safety.
Superintendent Eric Knost has been at the forefront of many of these conversations in the past two months, and took the lead in responding to questions during the meeting, held at Andre’s Banquet Hall. He highlighted the district’s current security practices, what’s changed since Sandy Hook, and what’s left to evaluate.
“It’s never okay to say ‘odds are,’ and ‘will never happen here,’” Knost said of the district’s need to be proactive.
In addition to making sure staff members who handle the schools’ buzzer systems received additional training on visitor protocols, he discussed the recent hire of additional secondary police officers at district elementary schools. These officers are “extremely confident in intruder scenarios,” he said.
The flexible scheduling of these officers allows the district to place bodies where and when they’ll be most effective. The board will evaluate later this year whether they should approve funds for additional officers, thought Knost said it isn’t likely that the number will be decreased.
He also mentioned that St. Louis County Tactical Team members have spent time examining each of the district’s schools.
“We will listen to them closely,” he said.
A few parents asked about potential building improvements, including adding perimeter fences, re-designed entrances, and additional safety features to doors and windows. Knost said he felt the presence of armed officers would serve as a more effective deterrent to these safety features.
“Schools still have to look like schools, feel like schools,” he said.
One parent said she didn’t know how to explain to her children why there are more officers at school.
“That’s where we need to partner with parents,” Knost said. He suggested emphasizing to students that the adults in schools are there to protect them. “Kids that young are more resilient than we realize.”
Students practice intruder drills, and Knost said it’s become procedure to let students know when they’re presented with a real threat. Knost confirmed for one parent that there is a notification plan in place if an emergency occurs at a district school.
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