For many schools across Cass County, the back-to-school regimen for teachers and support staff includes a checklist of to-do’s: lessons plans, organizing supplies, routing buses, enrolling students and lots of meetings.
Amid their already busy schedules, Raymore-Peculiar School District employees carved out time during the final days before classes resumed to focus on safety measures.
“In our safety plans every year, we train staff and even students on things like evacuation, shelter, secured perimeters and things of that nature,” said Jay Harris, assistant superintendent for administrative services. “This year we took that up another level ... to make sure we identify what we believe to be our best practice for violent intruders.”
On Aug. 7 and 8, Ray-Pec’s entire staff received specialized training in how to respond to an armed intruder.
“It’s a tough, sensitive topic to talk about,” Harris said. “It can be emotional. But the reality is we believe in safe and caring schools. Having safe schools requires all of us to be committed to that concept — all of our students, parents, community and our staff.”
According to the data from “The Bully Society,” there have been 137 fatal school shootings that killed 297 people since 1980.
The tragedies at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and, more recently, Sandy Hook Elementary continue to be constant reminders that a school shooting can happen anywhere, at any time. At Sandy Hook in Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders, less than two years ago.
A new law in Missouri, Senate Bill No. 75 which took effect July 1, requires school district staff to undergo some form of “Active Shooter and Intruder Response Training” annually. Some Cass County districts offered such training before the law was passed.
In March, the Ray-Pec board of education approved a contract with Strategos International to provide such training to all employees.
“We believe we will all benefit from this training — a training that we hope we never have to implement,” district superintendent Dr. Kari Monsees said in a news release before the exercises last week.
The training began with a two-hour lecture session on the protocol for responding to an emergency.
Teachers and other staffers then spent two hours with trainers at their respective buildings for three dramatized simulations.
“In the first simulation, they took us through what schools have always done in a lockdown over the years — shut your door, lock it, cover your windows and you hide,” Harris said.
Participants felt like victims.
“It was interesting because as the intruders were walking around, you felt pretty helpless,” Harris said. “You felt like there was nothing you could do but sit and wait.”
The training instructors then took a different approach, asking employees in the next two simulations to use three key strategies that they had learned.
“The intent of that simulation was that you would understand the difference of feeling helpless versus feeling empowered,” Harris said.
Employees were also taught about a decision-making process to make the best judgment call when personal safety is at risk.
“Some (classrooms) may be evacuating the building, some may be locking down, and in some cases, you may have to fight back,” Harris said. “By implementing these strategies, when your body is in distress, you can do a few small things which can significantly impact your ability to stay alive and to protect your students.”
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments in Raymore and Peculiar also were involved in the simulations.
Members from each agency serve on the district’s School Safety Task Force, which meets monthly to review safety issues with members of law enforcement.
“For us, it’s a way we can share information and ideas between law enforcement and the school district,” said Cpl. Kevin Tieman, a task force member representing the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. “Where those two worlds collide, with keeping kids safe and educating them at the same time, it works best to have people from both sides to figure out what a great solution is that works well for both entities.”
Harris said members of the task force were instrumental in helping the district select and plan for Strategos International to do the training.
In addition, the training also allowed law enforcement officers to practice their roles.
“They practiced their response to schools ... if there was ever a violent intruder and how they would respond in getting a 911 call,” Harris said. “It was a great practice for all of us, and our community.”
Tieman agreed: “It worked well for our deputies because they were put into a situation where they worked with officers from other agencies. It also allowed deputies into schools that they may not get into (often) to help familiarize them not only with the design of the school, but how the school is going to respond to a situation like this.”
Harris said that the simulations are just one component of the district’s overall safety plan.
“You have to take a comprehensive approach with school safety,” Harris said. “Violent intruder training was one piece of the puzzle.”
The district is in the final stages of installing secured vestibule entrances at Peculiar Elementary School, Raymore Elementary School, Shull Elementary School and at the Raymore-Peculiar High School south building.
“They allow our school staff to monitor and control access to our schools in a more proactive manner,” Harris said. With the new construction, all schools will have that capability.
Last year, the district also implemented Quick Tip, an online method of reporting school safety or bullying concerns. Using an online form, tip reporters have the option to enter personal contact information or remain anonymous.
The link to Quick Tip is posted on the district’s website.
Other safety measures include:
• Crisis plans, procedures, and safety drills are designed and rehearsed to ensure the safety of students, staff and visitors in the event of a fire, tornado, utility failure, disaster or violent intruder.
• A school resource officer is stationed on the main campus when school is in session as part of an agreement with Peculiar.
• The Raymore Police Department recently hired a school/community liaison officer who partners with the district to provide school safety support.
• A private security company provides additional building and outside perimeter security at Ray-Pec High School and Ray-Pec East Middle School during the day and district-wide at night.
• The district issues identification badges for all staff members.