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As School Violence Dominates Headlines, Local School Safety Expert Looks At Security Policies

Is school violence on the rise?  The tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last month and the Columbine High School tragedy in April of 1999 still weigh heavily on people’s minds and may lead some to believe that school violence is on the rise.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  Still, school districts are taking another look at their security policies.  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann talks with area school officials and has this report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that since the 1990s, violent events involving single victims are down while events with multiple victims are up.  But the report says school-associated homicides are rare and represent around 1 percent of fatal violence.

Tom Tucker is director of school police services for Springfield Public Schools.  He says the focus on school safety is a reflection of a bigger problem.According to Tucker, his department pays especially close attention when any violent event happens, such as the movie theatre, mall and school shootings last year.  He says with every event they are aware of the potential for copy-cat incidents.

“I think our school environments are safe. I just think that, you know, we have a lot of things going on in our society.  Sometimes unfortunately, some those things are mirrored at varying levels in our schools,” says Tucker.

Tucker says SPS has 56 schools in the district and has officers that patrol and/or are stationed at the schools.  He says the school safety officers work closely with the Springfield Police Department and will often initiate a “lock down” when there is a perceived threat.  

“The administrators may not even know the complete reason to lock down.  A lot of times SPD might call our dispatch center, and they will notify us, and we will call the school and say that ‘SPD has requested you lock your exterior doors.’  And it may be a little bit before we might find out what’s going on. Sometimes it’s not shared with the kid.  That’s up to the administrators, the age of the kids, and what the event actually is in the neighborhood,” Tucker says.

Bob Senninger is the safety coordinator for the Mt. Vernon school district and has been on the job there for 14 years.  He says he doesn’t feel violence is on the rise.  According to Senninger, what has really changed is the role of technology in schools and communication.  

“Unfortunately in today’s world with technology the way that it is, if someone says something, it is going to get our real quick.  So to try to avoid panic, we try not to tell them anything until it’s absolutely necessary to tell them,” Senninger says.

Senninger and Tucker both say being prepared and practicing what they would do in a real emergency situation are important.  They say their districts participate in regular practice drills and are always aware of what is going on in the community and the country.  But Senninger says, while it’s important to be prepared, schools shouldn’t dwell too much on the topic.

“I think if we make too much of a big deal over it outwardly, it can lead to more trouble than what we need.  So, just kind of keep it low key.  But we’re ready—we always ready,” Senniger says.

Both school safety officials say there are many policies in place at their schools addressing a wide range of safety issues.

Theresa received her undergraduate degree in sociology at Missouri State University, as well as her Master's degree in Social Work at MSU. Theresa enjoys writing, drawing, reading, music, working with animals, and most of all spending time with her family. She wishes to continue to use her experiences, combined with her pursuit of education, to foster a sense of empowerment and social awareness in the community. Theresa loves working with KSMU and attributes her passion for NPR, and love of learning, to her father.