Lawmakers, experts propose methods to increase student safety in response to tragedy at Sandy Hook.
The nation was brought together in mourning last December when 26 people, including 20 children, were shot and killed at a Connecticut elementary school.
It was the second deadliest shooting in American history, prompting press conferences and policy suggestions aimed at preventing another such massacre. The National Rifle Association made the largest waves when, in response to Sandy Hook, the lobbying group's Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre called for armed police officers posted in every school.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun," LaPierre said at a press conference, "is a good guy with a gun."
From armed guards to arming teachers themselves, the question of what can and should be done to better protect students elicits strong responses. What is prudent and feasible remains subject to much debate in legislatures across the country.
South Dakota's state government has been quickest to move on the NRA's suggestion, enacting a law to allow school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers who complete a training program to carry firearms in schools.
Similar bills have been proposed in the Missouri House of Representatives this session. House Bill 70 would allow any teacher or school administrator with a valid concealed carry permit to possess firearms on school grounds without consent of school boards. Another, HB 276, aims to create voluntary "school protection officer" designations that, with completion of a training program and district approval, would allow the "officers" to carry weapons on school grounds and detain anyone he or she believes has violated state laws or school policies.
Dr. Kathleen Nolan, a program associate and lecturer at Princeton University who has extensively studied police presence in schools, disagrees with such proposed legislation.
"It's an irresponsible, knee-jerk reaction to the fear we are all experiencing. I think it's frightening, the idea of putting arms in teachers hands. First, it's impossible to ensure school personnel have the proper training, but perhaps even more importantly schools personnel and teachers lack the experience. No one knows how they will respond in a situation with a crazed gunman," Nolan said.
The Missouri bills are different from the School Resource Officer program, which currently has about 210 dues-paying members in Missouri and more than 10,000 nationally. SROs are commissioned police officers with additional training in the organization's "triad" of responsibilities: teacher, counselor and law enforcement officer.
"As police officers, we're teachers and we're counselors. The school resource officer puts on different hats and for, say, poverty-stricken kids, we're also that connecting link between them and the Department of Social Services, or the local health department," said Union, Mo. Police Officer Rod Tappe, vice president of the Missouri School Resource Officer Association Board and SRO at the Union R-XI School District.
Mo Cannady, executive director of National Association of School Resource Officers, advocates for SRO or school-based policing programs, "not just something that puts an armed guard in the school."
"We don't feel that is a long-term solution," Cannady said.
"You have buildings filled with lots of children and when you have a situation of a shooter in a building like that, the good guy needs to be more than just a private citizen."
Implementation of an SRO program at schools nationwide is estimated to cost between $2-$3 billion, while in Missouri, where schools are currently underfunded by about $600 million, the estimate is $100 million in added expenses.
Cannady acknowledges cost considerations make an SRO an unrealistic solution for some districts and supports communities being able to make decisions for themselves, as opposed to action by the federal or state government. Both the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Missouri School Boards Associations referred questions to the Missouri Center for Education Safety, a public-private partnership between the Missouri Department of Public Safety, the Office of Homeland Security and MSBA, which shared that sentiment.
"It needs to be a local decision by the school boards and they need to make sure they have good input and have good discussions with public safety officials and teachers and do this with eyes wide open," Executive Director Paul Fennewald said.
In Linn County, the Superintendents of the two largest schools spoke with the LCL about the security of their schools in the wake of Sandy Hook.
"We have held public forums and we are currently in the process of developing a Safety and Security Master Plan," said Brookfield R-3's Dr. Paul Barger. "The focus for this plan has be to secure the perimeter of the campus facilities and monitor/supervise visitors that enter the buildings."
Dr. Barger continued: "The Sandy Hook incident accelerated the process of discussing how to make safe structural changes to our facilities and heightend the belief for everyone that this type of incident could happen anywhere."
"We have done several things to evaluate what we do to keep students and staff safe," said Marceline R-5's Gabe Edgar. "We have put in buzz-in cameras at each entrance and are locking down all other entrances during the school day."
Edgar continued: "I would like to see the state or federal government provide us with more resources to help us fund safety in schools. We have spend several thousands of dollars on school safety in the last five years and we feel like we are barely keeping up with status quo."
Brookfield R-3 also employs a School Resource Office, whose salary is paid through both the school and the City of Brookfield.
"The presence of law enforcement helps create a safe atmosphere," explained Dr. Barger. "The SRO establishes proactive relationships with the students and provides a law enforcement perspective in certain classroom discussions."
While Marceline R-5 does not have an SRO, Superintendent Edgar wouldn't mind adding one in the future. "It would be nice to have a resource officer," said Edgar. "We have worked with the local police department a couple of times on a grant opportunity. We just have not been fortunate enough to get one."