• St. Louis-area superintendents say guns in their schools not likely

    Sept. 15, 2014

    By Elisa Crouch ecrouch@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8119 and Alex Stuckey astuckey@post-dispatch.com > 573-556-6186

    Many St. Louis-area school superintendents say they don’t want guns in their schools regardless of a new state law that allows designated teachers to carry them.

    The law lets school districts appoint teachers or administrators as “school safety officers” who would be allowed to carry concealed weapons after training.

    Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed this bill in July. But on Wednesday, the Legislature overrode his veto of gun rights expansion legislation that also allows residents with concealed weapons permits to openly carry guns in public.

    Parents contacted the Clayton School District late last week concerned that teachers could soon be carrying weapons through the hallways.

    “There’s the perception that school districts are required to do this, rather than allowed to do this,” district spokesman Chris Tennill said.

    The district’s position was posted on its website Friday afternoon. “There are few, if any, situations that would require the District to consider appointing ‘school protection officers’ given the level of and proximity to law enforcement resources already in place,” it stated.

    Most superintendents and school district representatives who were contacted on Friday said their school systems already have police working in buildings as school resource officers, and response time from law enforcement is fast enough not to warrant arming school staff.

    St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said his staff needs to review the legislation, but at this time there are no plans to designate any teacher to carry a firearm into school buildings.

    Representatives of Jennings, Kirkwood, Francis Howell, Ritenour, Affton, Webster Groves, Hancock Place, Ladue, Pattonville, Lindbergh, Festus, Northwest, Troy, Mo., and Ladue school districts agreed.

    “I don’t see the need,” said Eric Knost, superintendent of Rockwood schools. “We have police officers in schools. We have buzzer systems in schools. We have heightened alerts.”

    The legislative action makes Missouri the 10th state to pass a law concerning armed school employees since 20 children and six adults died during a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

    Soon after that shooting, a national debate began over whether students would be safer if teachers or administrators were to carry concealed guns.

    Missouri school boards already had the authority to allow staff with concealed weapons permits to bring firearms into school buildings. The new law takes this a step further and requires the Missouri Department of Public Safety to establish training guidelines for the school protection officers before they’re authorized to carry a concealed gun or pepper spray onto campuses.

    “It’s important that we train those individuals if they are going to be carrying,” said state Sen. Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, who sponsored the bill.

    Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association, has testified against the bill and any effort to arm teachers in classrooms.

    “It’s a mistake for schools to do it,” he said. “It’s an option that doesn’t seem to hold much other than the likelihood of liability and problems.”

    On Thursday, a Utah teacher carrying a concealed weapon was injured when her gun accidentally fired in the restroom and shattered the toilet.

    The potential for such problems is one reason Superintendent Mark Penny of the Troy school district in Lincoln County opposes guns in his schools.

    Some school districts have come up with creative ways to make their schools safer in the 15 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Troy schools hold drills to help police craft strategies to take down active shooters, and to help teachers learn to respond quickly and effectively to the sound of gunfire.

    Those drills, coupled with a good relationship with law enforcement, makes Penny think that arming teachers isn’t necessary. “There are lots of ramifications of arming teachers,” he said. “We’re in the education business. We’re not in the security business.”

    Working as a school safety officer would be voluntary for any teacher or administrator. As an officer, the educator would have authority to detain or use warranted force against anyone whenever necessary.

    Any district considering naming a school safety officer would have to first hold a public hearing on the matter. The school board would consider in a closed meeting whether to allow the school safety officer to carry a weapon or self-defense spray.

    The Missouri Department of Public Safety is to keep a running list of school districts that opt into this program, but that list will not be available to the public. The department is also developing more than 100 hours of training a school safety officer must have. A commission has to set up the courses for school safety officers specifically tailored to what a teacher might face, such as a school shooter.

    Bill supporter Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said this law change adding training is meant to put “people more at ease.” Some school districts, he said, had reservations about teachers carrying concealed weapons without additional training. However, schools can still simply opt for a teacher to carry a concealed weapon.

    But Kevin Carl, superintendent of the Hancock Place district, said it puts teachers in a law enforcement role, when they should be focused on instruction. He sees too many downsides.

    “What I want to make sure is educators are doing the very best at what they’re trained to do, and that is to teach,” Carl said.

    In Jefferson County, a policy committee in the Grandview School District brought up the idea of allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons about a month ago, but that was the extent of it.

    Link Luttrell, superintendent of the Festus School District, said he didn’t think the idea would take hold there. “I would venture pretty comfortably to say that there will not be any interest from our board of education to enter that foray,” he said.

    Leah Thorsen of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report