KCPS searches for ways to improve safety in schools

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News
April 17, 2013 

“The school district is probably one of the safest places for our kids at any given time,” said Marcus Harris, director of security for Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS).

However, there’s always room for improvement, said KCPS Manager of Public Relations Andre Riley.

To improve student safety, KCPS recently formed the KCPS Safety Committee, as dictated by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Each year, KCPS forms a safety committee, but this year KCPS actively sought out community members to serve on the committee, in addition to district staff, union members, vendors, police officers and members of parent groups like the (District Advisory Committee) DAC and SAC (School Advisory Committee).

“With everyone paying attention to what happened in Newtown (Connecticut), we believed we could get a greater interest in this community,” Riley said. “It’s a good reminder of how important this committee is.”

The goal of the committee is to evaluate KCPS’ safety policies and procedures and find ways to improve the system, Riley said.

During a previous meeting, the safety committee identified a safety “wish list” which included items like safe and secure building access; mental health training on crisis intervention for staff and students; consistently train teachers and administrators for comprehensive safety; train staff to be first responders, among other goals.

“Safety is the foundation for the education process,” KCPS Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green said. “If a student doesn’t feel safe, learning is not going to take place.”

Asked to rate KCPS’ current level of safety, Harris said, “I think we’re doing really well. We haven’t had any incidents with kids being shot on school district property or killed on school district property. We haven’t had any bombs going off or anything of that nature.”

Each year, KCPS spends $4 million on student safety, utilizes a $1 million surveillance system that it continues to expand and employs 78 officers and six Kansas City Police Department school resource officers.

“That’s (number of officers) larger than some small communities (police departments),” Harris said. “I don’t know how many other districts are spending $4 million just for a security department budget and then $1 million on a camera system that’s steadily expanding… We’re very blessed.”

The school district is located within some of Kansas City’s most dangerous zip codes, Harris said.

“We’re right in the middle of where anything can go wrong, but despite everything that’s going on outside the school walls, we’ve managed to keep all of that, for the most part, out of our schools,” Harris said.

Where KCPS struggles is adhering to the safety policies, Harris said.

“People really haven’t reviewed them and studied them,” he said of the district’s safety policies.

Some schools aren’t performing the drills, like fire drills, school lockdowns, among others, he said. Performing drills helps staff and students know the precautions to take during a real-life dangerous situation.

“If you do enough drills then you will know what to do (in a real-life situation),” Harris said.

During drills, schools can also learn their weaknesses and strengths and act accordingly in the future, he said.

In addition to planned drills, the district must practice more random drills and do additional cross training of staff, he said.

The safety committee will continue to meet and Harris will make recommendations based off of meeting discussions. His recommendations will then be sent to Green, who will determine if changes need to be made.

“We know the superintendent is definitely keeping an eye on this. It’s very important to him,” Riley said. “We think we’re doing a good job, but we want to do better. We do not want to ever get to a point where we look back and feel like we didn’t do enough.”

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