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School district uses Missouri law to arm staff for first time

Several Missouri school districts arm their employees to prevent mass shootings. More schools in the state are considering it following a school shooting last month.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
A Missouri school district has used the state's School Protection Officer law for the first time since it was created in 2014.

A Missouri law adopted four years ago to arm school staff was used for the first time this summer. It’s a step one school district took to increase security after a debate on protecting students flared this year.

The school massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead in February kicked off a nationwide debate over arming teachers to protect against future attacks. This summer one Missouri school sent two employees through a certified police academy training program to become authorized School Protection Officers, allowing them to carry concealed firearms on school grounds, according to the Department of Public Safety.

More information about which district used the program is unknown because the names are sealed under state law.

But while the district is the first to use the state law created in 2014, as St. Louis Public Radio reported in March, it’s not the first to have armed staff members. About 10 districts have used a private contractor to train and arm teachers, according to an estimate from a major school insurance firm, which is also allowed under Missouri’s gun laws.

Iberia School District added to that number when it decided in the spring to have armed employees in addition to a uniformed resource officer on its campus in central Missouri. Superintendent Lyndel Whittle said he and his district's school board had talked about arming staff before the Parkland shooting, but the conversation picked up afterward.

“This is nothing anybody is excited about doing,” Whittle said. “We see it as something we need to do just to provide a safer environment for our kids.”

Iberia, which is in southeast Miller County near the Lake of the Ozarks, and other districts have used Shield Solutions, a security firm based in West Plains. Shield Solutions has declined to disclose the cost of its training program, but superintendents said it’s less expensive to arm teachers than hire a school resource officer.

Despite being more expensive, the Glenwood School District south of West Plains decided to hire a police officer for the first time. Superintendent Wayne Stewart said he was more comfortable with a resource officer than having armed teachers.

Glenwood, which is in Howell County, was one of the last nearby rural districts to not have an armed presence. Stewart said he doesn't want the school to feel like a prison and having the right resource officer will be key.

“They come in with a great personality and the kids get to know them,” he said. “And they’re probably going to be able to do a lot of things for the benefit of kids when they get the kids’ trust.”

The Missouri School Boards Association’s Center for Education Safety has not tracked how many more school districts hired school resource officers or trained staff to carry weapons.

But the association’s emergency planning coordinator, John Warner, said the center has been conducting risk assessment training for schools around the state to help staff recognize sooner a student who could be a threat.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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