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Mehlville board members talk school safety with legislators

'Renewed focus' anticipated on mental illness, Sifton says

Kari Williams
Staff Reporter
February 06, 2013 - School safety, gun control and mental health could be among topics addressed by the Legislature this session.

Local lawmakers met last week with Mehlville Board of Education members and Superintendent Eric Knost. At the Jan. 31 meeting, Knost asked for movement at the legislative level on school safety, specifically the ability for school districts to place officers at its schools.

"I do hope that there will be some focus about this as it's not just a Mehlville problem, it's something we have to think about for all ...," Knost said.

The Mehlville Board of Education recently approved an additional four officers to monitor the district's elementary schools at a cost of roughly $35,000 for the remainder of the current school year.

Rep. Vicki Englund, D-Concord, said she hopes gun control will be addressed in Jefferson City, though it may not happen immediately.

"I think one of the key things, too, is that with the number of school districts in the state and the diversity of those school districts both in size, population, rural, urban, that whatever solution that's come up with, is something that each district has the ... independence or at least the authority to be able to tailor it to their needs," she said.

Though Mehlville is "managing to do this (police officer) pilot" on its own, not all districts will be able to do so, but Knost said having an officer presence will be a priority.

"Obviously safety is absolutely the goal, but we also have to have the climate of the school building," he said. "To be a school, we have to look like a school. We have to act like a school and part of that is comfort."

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said he believes there will also be a "renewed focus" on mental illness.

"I think you are going to see — and it is past time – that we see a renewed focus on mental illness in our communities as part of our public-policy debate ...," Sifton said. "It really just is past time for us to get our act together at the local level and the state level (and) national in helping people to get the help that they need because so many of these shooting) incidents have that as the root cause. It is a very high correlation."

Though it is important that mental health is addressed, Knost said Mehlville already has some pieces in place to address those concerns.

"We're very aware of threats that may exist and we have protocols for that," he said.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, said she believes, "in some ways," educators' "hands are tied in dealing with students that they suspect need more help than what the district can give them."

In Mehlville, however, Knost said there are many memorandums of understanding with counseling organizations so that if a parent is approached with concern about their child, the district can offer assistance.

The school safety discussion came roughly two months after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Tags: Mehlville School District News

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