Poll shows most believe schools have become less safe

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COLUMBIA - Twenty years after the Columbine High School shooting, many parents have only tepid confidence in school safety, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The survey shows, more than 70 percent of parents think schools have become less safe. Less than half of parents have much confidence in the ability of local law enforcement and schools to deal with an active shooter. 

A spokesperson for Columbia Public Schools, Michelle Baumstark, said they work hard to ensure that all the students, staff and visitors in the school district feel safe.

“We have made significant investments in cameras, as well as lighting, retrofitting buildings for different aspects of security and safety features,” she said.

West Platte School District in Weston, in an effort to make security a priority for approximately 700 students, teachers and staff, have installed 95 high-quality, facial-recognition cameras within the past few months.

West Platte Superintendent John Rinehart said his district spent $35,000 to add the software and hardware for the new security system.

“We had to replace a chunk of our existing camera system anyway, due to age, so we added the facial recognition to the bid as an add-on. We were able to meet our budget goals with the addition, so we added it,” he said. Rinehart said they felt this feature might make students safer.

In response, senior policy advisor to the Missouri Center of Education Safety and member of the Governor’s School Safety Task Force, Paul Fennewald said technology is useful as a tool, but it is not an answer to everything.

“There are some other more basic things that probably need to be addressed first. School climate and school culture, communication, behavioral risk and mental health issues, things like that,” he said.

Fennewald said it is impossible to prevent all incidents in any given day and any location.

“But I think we are doing a pretty good job, putting some safety nets in place to help protect our students and make schools very safe,” he said.   

Devid Ellis has been picking up his grandsons from Paxton Keeley Elementary School in Columbia for four years. He said he is satisfied with the current security system.

“You have to identify yourself. Without that, you cannot get in. Nobody can get in. Looks pretty safe to me,” he said.

Ming-Yei Hsu, the mother of a first-grader, said she chose Columbia Public Schools because she felt the school population is diverse.

“It is better for kids safety because bullying sometimes involves race,” she said.

Hsu said her daughter likes school, teachers and the environment and does not even want to leave school.

Baumstark said that the number of students, employees and parents that feel safe in Columbia Public Schools had been steadily increasing since 2012-2013.

“This is in large part due to our district’s continued emphasis on the importance of safety,” she said.

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