The St. Charles County school safety task force may not have any legislative power, but that didn't stop it from making suggestions for improvements on Tuesday.
Two weeks after the first meeting of the Schools, Mental Health And Emergency Services Task Force, the 14-member panel of school administrators, law enforcement and mental health professionals met for the second time early Tuesday at the Spencer Road Library. After spending much of the first meeting listening, meeting No. 2 was more focused on discussion and having a conversation.
Armed with the knowledge gained through a series of presentations made two weeks ago and a few made early Tuesday, the task force began compiling a list of recommendations it will present to the St. Charles County Council.
Near the top of the list is to find a way—most likely asking state legislators for some help—to increase the number of school resource officers. St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil, R-District 2, said adding more SROs should be the No. 1 priority.
Brazil said that having an armed person in school, preferably a police officer was important. He said if money is an issue, schools need to consider just how important SROs are. He said the armed officers were just as important to have in school as teachers.
The issue, of course, is the money. St. Peters Police Chief Tom Bishop said to get an officer inside every school his department would need to add nine to 10 more officers.
"I don't know where that funding is going to come from," Bishop said.
In addition to the SROs, the task force also talked about jumping aboard the new county-wide emergency radio communication system. County Director of Administration Joann Leykam told the task force earlier in the meeting about plans to upgrade the emergency communication system so that all departments and first responders are on the same page.
Leykam said she spoke to Motorola and was told that with the new system going into place, schools could get involved. Under the new system, schools could get a "panic" button installed somewhere in the building that would immediately call dispatch. St. Charles Community College already has a panic button system in place.
Task Force chairman Bernard DuBray, the superintendent of Fort Zumwalt, said the panic button would be a comfort to parents. Bishop said the idea had a lot of potential, as long as it wasn't abused. He said that St. Peters Police have a staggering amount of false alarms when it comes to home security systems and the department can't be rushed to the school for minor infractions. The educators on the board agreed and said that a plan would need to be put in place for types of cases that would require activation of the button.
Another reccomendation the task force made was to make sure schools and law enforcement work together as much as possible. Plans should be shared and law enforcement officers should be welcome in schools to get the lay of the land down. The task force said this is pretty much already in place, but it wouldn't hurt to be reminded that the two groups need to work together.
Dubray also proposed that schools should take safety in mind when building or renovating. He said Fort Zumwalt is already looking into making front door glass smaller and other schools should be encouraged to think about safety when drawing up plans. The rest of the task force agreed.
The task force also agreed that a system should be put in place to identify troubled kids. At the first meeting, Fort Zumwalt broke down how it monitors and tracks kids who could pose a threat to themselves or others. The task force said all school should be encouraged to create a similar identification program.
In the mental health field, making sure all the resources are known was another recommendation by the task force. Finding more funding is important, but the task force said making sure that schools, and really everyone, knows about mental health first aide and behavioral health response is a priority. Making a list or adding a section on the county website was one of the ways the task force discussed letting people know about all the resources available.
Brazil ended the meeting talking about violent video games. Touting the county's progressive banning of bath salts and K2, Brazil wondered if violent video game policy needs to change. Brazil suggested making that buyers of violent games are of a certain age would be a good step to take. Worried about overstepping their bounds, the task force instead said a review of policies in place would be good. If the policies are lacking, Brazil said the county council could address them without the imput of the task force.