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Security and safety in schools is part of on-going discussion at Columbia Public Schools

A part of Columbia Public Schools' Safety and Security director, John White's, presentation at Monday night's school board meeting. (Ashley Zavala/KRCG).

The Columbia Public Schools' security director gave school board members his annual update on safety and security measures across the district Monday night.

In his presentation at Monday night's school board meeting, John White presented a graphic of some of the district's recent security enhancements.

White said members of the Columbia Police Department's community outreach unit now has access to the district's 19 schools with a keyfob. White said he hopes to expand that access to all officers at some point.

He also told board members the district's DVR system has been upgraded, which he referred to as a "digital watch dog." The district also has security footage from 15 buildings, most of which is from the outside.

White told board members he is working with an architect to asses building entries to determine how to make them safer for the students and staff inside. He said one of the options he's looking into is retrofitting existing buildings so the flow of foot traffic goes into the main office. White noted if passed, funding from Columbia's bond issue in April would help cover the cost of altering the entryways. Voters will decide whether to pass the $30 million dollar bond issue, $750,000 of which would go into security enhancements throughout the district.

Each high school now has Narcan available in case of an opioid overdose. He said the district has 15 total doses of Narcan, five of which came from state funding, and ten which was purchased through a partnership with Kilgore's and the Lichtenstein Foundation, according to White.

White reiterated the district participates in A.L.I.C.E. active shooter training with all staff members and law enforcement each year. White also said the Columbia Police Department's SWAT team is hoping to do some site evaluations soon.

"It's not anything scary, it's just that they're preparing for the worst," White said. "Personally, I don't want them running into one of our buildings and its the first time they've been into one of our buildings and it's the first time they've been in the building." White used Rock Bridge High School for example. "It's 300,000 square feet. Where's room 200? Where's the 200 wing? It would be really nice if they already knew that."

White also said some patrol officers in different areas are using schools as mini-substations to write their reports instead of having to drive downtown. "The days they do it, the schools really enjoy having them there," White said. "It's really a win-win for them." Board members said parents or community members should not panic if they see a police car in front of a school.

After White's presentation, board members discussed the possibility of having metal detectors. White and Superintendent Peter Stiepelman said after meeting with both the Boone County Sheriff and Columbia Police Chief on the matter, they did not see it as a viable option, noting the amount of students that may have to congregate and wait outside to get through the metal detector.

"An increased police presence doesn't make every member of our community feel safe," Board Member Nancy Wade said. "There are members of our community who will see a metal detector at our school, and that's not going to make them feel safer," said Wade. "We educate kids. Parents send their kids to school to learn. There are mitigation measures we can take, but at the end of the day do you want to send them to jail or to school? And you have to balance those two competing perspectives."

Board member Paul Cushing said school shootings have reached the level as critical as 9/11. He talked about how there are now armed guards on planes and the creation of TSA after September 11. He noted the United States hasn't had a hijacking since.

"Our schools like our airports and airplanes of yesteryear are soft targets and easily exploited. Gun -free zones are an invitation to anyone crazy enough to want to shoot other human beings," Cushing said. He said he wants a highly trained, vetted , armed guard at the schools. He also said he's discussed metal detectors, single entry points at schools, additional lighting, additional access to mental health, harsher punishments, clear backpacks among other ideas.

"It's probably really important to engage our community," said Board Member Christine King. "At some point, we need direction on what the community feels is the best way to prevent those items to come in to begin with, because there's not any one way to prevent it. And most of these school shootings, I don't know if a metal detector would have prevented it, especially in the case of Parkland," King said.

White's presentation was not in response to the Parkland shooting. The presentation was originally scheduled for a work session in late February. Because of bad weather, the presentation was post-poned.




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