Keeping schools safe

Keeping schools safe
Published: Mar. 6, 2018 at 3:18 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 6, 2018 at 8:19 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CAPE GIRARDEAU COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - "We can do layers. Metal detectors, security system. But if someone wants to get into this building and do harm. They're going to get into this building and do harm. And that's what scares me."

Sobering thoughts from Saxony Lutheran Principal Mark Ruark but these are the times in which we live.

After school shootings, as close as Marshall County, Kentucky and as far away as Parkland, Florida, every school in the Heartland is re-evaluating its defenses if an armed intruder were to show up on campus. One way to prepare for such an event is to have what's called "active shooter" drills.

Both Saxony and Cape Central High Schools try to have at least two of these a year. Like the tornado and fire drills their parents practiced in school, the "active shooter" drill teaches kids how to best survive the event.

Jade Samanta is a senior at Saxony.

"It has never crossed my mind that I could be shot at this school," Samanta said. "I guess because I feel like we prepare and I feel like the school has done all it can to protect us."

Sgt. Cody Windbigler is a school liaison officer for the Cape County Sheriff's Department. He visits Saxony and 10 other schools on a regular basis.

"Basically we help train the staff on what to do if they face an armed intruder and we help them run the drills," he said.

Saxony sits relatively alone, five miles north of Cape Girardeau off Interstate 55. Its closest neighbor is a rock quarry.

"You'd like to think it couldn't happen here," said Ruark, "but I think we've seen it can happen anywhere."

Is the answer arming school employees? Mother of four Julie Ann Palmer is okay with that.

"If I knew there would be more people to protect them, that would be a comfort to me," Palmer said.

Sgt. Windbigler isn't opposed to the idea but points out that it isn't as simple as some might think.

"Just because you have a gun and a permit doesn't mean you'll be able to shoot effectively," Sgt. Windbigler said. "This isn't Hollywood where you turn the gun sideways, fire five times and five people die. It takes a lot to be able to shoot someone who is trying to kill people."

Nineteen cameras watch the comings and goings at Saxony. All six entrances are secured after the first bell rings. Still, the school's principal sometimes can't sleep at night knowing, "we're a soft target."

Cape Central is a different beast. The Tigers have 75 cameras, 1,100 people on campus daily, and 22 ways to get into the building. The school has dealt with serious threats the last couple of years.

"We're investigating things all the time," remarked Superintendent Neil Glass.

After Adam Lanza killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Cape Central went from two armed school resource officers to five.

"School shootings end with force. We find the threat and we stop it," said Sgt. Rick Schmidt with the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

The district spends $150,000 a year for the officers.

After recent shootings in Kentucky and Florida, parents want to be reassured the district is doing all it can to protect their children.

"I don't think there's panic," said Assistant Superintendent Josh Crowell, "but parents want to know that we're doing all we can to keep their students safe."

Isiah Sterling, a junior, said that while "the hallways were buzzing 'Did you hear about Parkland?'" Some kids were worried. "But I tell them, guys, they've got us. We're safe here."

Schools rely on students to pay attention and report anything or anyone who doesn't seem right.

"Kids have to make the right choice," said Crowell. "They've got to offer that information."

Theresa Taylor has taught at Cape Central for years. Never did she think that she'd have to learn how to protect her kids from an armed shooter.

Her room is equipped with a bookcase large enough to block the door and straps that secure it to door's handle so it can't be opened from the outside. But is the veteran teacher prepared to pack a gun along with her lunch?

"No. I will not carry a gun," she said. "I'm not afraid of guns, I've shot guns, but I'm not qualified to carry a gun to school. Should others in the building? We have retired military and retired police who are teachers, should they carry a gun? Make it so no one knows? Perhaps."

Sitting prominently on Mark Ruark's desk is a plaque that reads, "The buck stops here." It's a phrase Ruark takes seriously, both when it comes to discipline and protecting the 280 people in this building on a daily basis.

He'd rather have retired law enforcement or military paid to patrol these hallways daily. But if the small, private school can't come up with the money to hire someone?

Ruark is mindful of where the buck stops. "If that means the principal has to be trained and carry a gun then that's what I'll do."

Download the KFVS News app: iPhone | Android

Copyright 2018 KFVS. All rights reserved.