ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – School districts throughout the St. Louis area took a critical look at safety and security of their school buildings following the shootings in Newtown, Conn. on December 14th, 2012 which took the lives of 20 children and six adults in one of the most horrific school shootings since Columbine.
A year later every school district in the metropolitan area has added safety measures, and some, like Mehlville, Rockwood, St. Charles and every Illinois school district preform annual intruder drills.
“That allows us to adjust our practices based upon what we learned, focusing on a certain area that maybe vulnerable,” said Mehlville schools Superintendent Eric Knost.
The drills are required by law in all Illinois schools.
O’Fallon, Ill. Police Chief Eric Van Hook said his department takes it one step further even asking undercover officers, who don’t look like your typical police officer, to enter school buildings unannounced just to see how long they can stay in the building.
Besides drills, school districts have equipped their classrooms with intruder locks on every classroom door and most have a buzzer entry system.
Fort Zumwalt Superintendent, Dr. Bernard DuBray, said his district didn’t stop there. After a bond issue passed in April the district added a “glass strengthening film” to the main entry windows.
You may remember the Newtown shooter did encounter a locked main entrance, but he shot his way through a glass wall panel to enter the school.
After winter break, DuBray said 7 out of 15 elementary schools in his district will be equipped with security cameras that link directly to the police department.
“They will be able to look at the security just as we do,” he added.
Run. Hide. Fight
St. Charles Schools Superintendent Jeff Marion said his high school students are learning how to defend themselves, saying active shooters require a different response than the traditional lockdown.
His district has officially adopted the Run. Hide. Fight model.
“You have permission to make decisions to save your life and this includes the adults and the students,” Marion explained. “What you want to do is figure out where the gunfire is coming from, if there is a safe way out of the building to get away from that, that’s what you want to do.”
In Rockwood, Superintendent Dr. Terry Adams has taken a more cautious approach. He said district officials are still debating whether to adopt the response program ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) which involves fighting back against intruders.
“The concerns are we’re asking people to resist, who are certainly a lot less armed, than the person we are asking them to resist against,” he said.
Adams told KMOX he would like to hear from an expert or see a study that actually says the ALICE program leads to a better outcome.
Francis Howell Chief Financial Officer Kevin Supple said for the last 7 years his district has devoted substantial resources each year towards safety and security. And efforts really began after the 1999 Columbine massacre.
Supple said looking forward he hopes to engage the public on the issue of school safety at a series of townhall meetings.
“We also engaged our public through a series of townhall meetings in order to engage their interest and solicit some ideas from them about how we might improve school safety,” he added.