Armed teachers

In the wake of more mass shootings across the country, the Marion C. Early R-5 school district is taking up a hot-button topic. Should teachers and district staff be armed?

It’s an issue the school board plans to address during a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at the school library.

“We began exploring the topic last year after hearing of a few other districts going through the training,” said MCE superintendent Josh Angel via email.

He said safety and security is the district’s top priority. 

“We are always looking for ways to increase the safety and security of our students and staff,” he said. “We are exploring the use of school protection officers for additional security. Holding a public hearing is required by law.” 

According to Missouri statute, school protection officers are selected faculty members who have completed the necessary requirements to carry concealed firearms or a self-defense spray device in any school in the district.

Angel referred the BH-FP to information provided by the University of Missouri Extension’s Law Enforcement Training Institute to provide context for MCE’s public hearing on Thursday.  

According to the institute, which says it is the only Missouri training center to offer a school protection officer academy, on Oct. 10, 2014, the Missouri legislature enacted SB 656, a bill that created the SPO position as one way to begin addressing school safety.

“An armed law enforcement presence with full powers of arrest is the most effective deterrent to violence in the schools,” LETI says via its website, “but neither every district nor every school has the resources available to provide law enforcement resource officers or even well-trained armed security officers.” 

The law grants Missouri school districts the ability to allow designated school faculty or administrators to possess concealed firearms and/or self-defense sprays to assist them “in times when all other security measures have failed and they are forced to take action to protect the lives of the children,” the institute says.

The law requires SPOs to undergo a minimum of 120 hours of training designed and presented by experienced law enforcement trainers. 

In contrast to the duties of SPOs, school resource officers are sworn law enforcement officers responsible for providing security and crime prevention in schools. 

More recently, Missouri’s School Safety Task Force, led by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, submitted a July 31 report to Gov. Mike Parson that found schools should have armed staff. 

From Missouri’s perspective, the task force studied a recently released Federal Commission on School Safety report to identify gaps, shortfalls and suggested policy changes.

The report said school districts that most effectively employ SROs “have them in every building and incorporate them into training development, risk assessment and threat assessment while understanding that SROs also have an influence far beyond their law enforcement capabilities.”

However, the report found that in Missouri, securing funding for SROs “is a challenge for many communities." 

Typically, either law enforcement funds SRO positions, the position is jointly funded between law enforcement agencies and school districts or the school district funds 100% of the SRO’s program costs, the report says.

Funding decisions for SROs are made entirely at the district level because Missouri does not provide funding for SRO programs in individual school districts.

Regarding SPOs, the report found “to date, few schools have implemented this program.”

According to the MCE district, the public hearing on Thursday will include information about the duties of SPOs and the requirements that are necessary for a school district to permit the use of SPOs, including the required training and background checks. 

See a future edition of the BH-FP for info on the hearing.

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