A weeks-long brainstorming session on how to keep students and teachers safe ended with many, many ideas. But they all boil down to three things, said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass.
Recognize the threat before it gets to the school. Stop the threat at the door. Deal with the threat if it gets inside the door.
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And the greatest of those is to “keep the devil outside the door,” Douglass said.
“A lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been done over the past fifteen years,” he said. School districts have tightened security for visitors and students as they pass through the halls. So a lot of discussion during the Defense of Our Schools Summit was about identifying a person who could become a threat before he or she follows through, he said.
The summit, which included officials from several Johnson County school districts and law enforcement agencies, concluded its sessions Monday with a presentation of suggestions discussed by the 200 who participated. School district heads walked out with a 1,200-page binder of ideas. There was no unified action plan. Instead, the officials will look at which suggestions can be most effective in their own school districts.
Defense of Our Schools got its start a couple of months after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in December. In that incident, 20 students and six teachers were killed by a gunman who shot his way through locked doors.
Since then, school districts have considered many changes to make schools more secure. In Blue Valley, some schools are being fitted with new front entrances that force visitors to enter school through the office once school is in session. Others, like the Shawnee Mission district, lock the classroom doors during the day.
Some schools have also considered adding door-ajar chimes and monitors in the hallways.
Douglass said there should be a push to identify people with mental illnesses who show signs that they could become a threat. Schools and law enforcement officers should be “pushing some of the techniques that have worked inside the schools to the community outside.”
Police officers and school counselors and teachers are always watching for behavior that signals that a child might become a threat, he said. Communities could do the same. He said that there were indications the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, had mental issues before the shooting.
Not everyone with mental health issues is a potential threat, he said. “We have to be sophisticated enough to find out the ones who are harmless and the ones who are not.”
Tom Trigg, Blue Valley school superintendent, said, “The key to the whole things is relationships.” Parents and students need to be proactive in sensing problems and sharing tips with each other, he said. “So often after a tragic event the focus tends to be on hardware.”
One controversial suggestion that was not pursued in the talks was the idea of arming teachers or custodians, Douglass said. “That was not part of the debate.”
Ideas discussed also included “text a cop” programs to give students a way to text anonymous information to the school resource officer, a mentoring program to train students about respecting each other, software to track social media and community involvement programs to identify a person at risk.
Officials participating in the summit came from Blue Valley, Shawnee Mission and Olathe public schools, Johnson County Community College, the sheriff’s offices in Miami and Johnson counties, and the Olathe and Overland Park police departments.