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Missouri school safety official calls for more funding and planning to prevent attacks

Paul Fennewald speaks at lecturn.

The director of Missouri’s Center for Education Safety wants the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Educationto require all schools to have plans for responding to active shooters and other emergencies.   

CES Director Paul Fennewald said, without federal guidelines, there are no uniform school standards in the state for preparing for such tragedies.

“There’s no state requirement,” he said. “The state regulations that DESE [sets] say schools ‘should’ have an emergency plan, but the language just says ‘should’. It doesn’t say they must be evaluated and things like that.”

Fennewald estimates about a third to a half of all Missouri schools do have high-quality emergency plans in place, but others, especially in rural communities, he said are not prepared to respond.

In an email, DESE Communications Coordinator Sarah Potter wrote school “districts aren’t required to send us emergency plans so we wouldn’t be able to speculate on how prepared they are for these situations.”

I don't think the average ... parent knows how little our state government supports school safety with actual investments of funding in the efforts. - Paul Fennewald

A major challenge, said Fennewald, is Missouri has no reliable funding source for school training programs.

“I don't think the average … parent knows how little our state government supports school safety with actual investments of funding in the efforts,” he said.

Earlier this year, lawmakers budgeted $700,000 dollars for school safety measures, but Governor Jay Nixon last month cut that down to $100,000 dollars.

The reduction was part of roughly $115 million that Nixon cut in spending this year to account for sluggish revenue growth, however, the cuts could be restored, if revenues improve.

According to CES, last fiscal year the state awardedmore than $400,000 dollars in block grants to 49 school districts to support safety-related programs and initiatives.

The funding was dispersed for a variety of purposes to districts large and small. The Parkway School District, for instance, used a $15,000 grant from the center to train 60 staff members for active shooter situations. In the Hazelwood School District, a $15,000 grant paid for a two-way radio system. St. Louis Public Schools spent $14,961 on search and rescue equipment and an anti-bullying program.

Fennewald said funding grants like these has become more difficult since support from the federal government ended two years ago.

“While 2 years ago CES received a small federal grant from the US Department of Education to promote school emergency planning, that money is all but spent, and CES receives no other outside funding,” he said.

Missouri is falling behind other states, he said where legislatures have devoted more resources for school safety measures. He pointed to Indiana, where the legislature allocated $10 million in school safety grants last year.

“You look at Virginia and Colorado and they’re over the top. A number of years ago, Colorado was putting $12 million into school safety. But you look at the drivers. What drove that? What happened in Colorado that all of a sudden school safety was important? Columbine. What happened in Virginia? Virginia Tech.”

Fennewald is a featured speaker this week at the National School Safety Convention in Orlando, presenting on counter radicalization and extremism among youths in local communities. He served previously as Missouri’s Homeland Security Coordinator and also spent 23 years as a special agent for the FBI.

The Center for Education Safety is the Missouri's only statewide school safety organization and part of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @joemikeleahy