By MAGGIE MENDERSKIHerald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL Mo. -- The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., brought a small crowd of parents to the monthly Hannibal Public Schools board meeting on Wednesday.
Parents wanted to know how and if the school system intended to expand safety measures. With 20 students and six teachers murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, parents questioned the school about existing and potential procedures. School Board President David Jackson explained the news of the East Coast tragedy had upset the local staff, administration and even students.
"In our hearts, it's our kids, our school and our staff," Jackson said. "… We all lost something on Friday."
Max Capp, a parent, questioned whether the school and the Hannibal Police Department could conduct a drill for a gunman on campus. He believed having a procedure in place and involving outside entities could better prepare the students and the staff for a dangerous situation. Capp also suggested arming teachers, providing metal detectors, implementing bulletproof windows and placing security guards at each school.
Superintendent Jill Janes said the board and police officials have already begun conversations about ways to increase student safety. She said the board intended to follow the lead of police. She assured the parents that the school wouldn't rush into a drastic solution, but it would thoroughly examine each element of increased safety measures.
Board member Erik Gottman explained that the board has to be realistic about how it intends to protect the school. He said arming teachers would ask them to assume both the role of security and educator.
"There's a lot to do in taking someone's life … and they're there to be teachers," Gottman said.
The room echoed the need for collaboration among students, staff, parents and administration. Capp suggested creating a parent committee to address school safety.
Board member Mark Bross asked parents to listen to their children's stories about classmates acting strange and contact the school when these stories show concern. He said that in other situations, dangerous students showed signs of distress before causing violence. Jackson noted in the past, Hannibal Public Schools has identified and dealt with threatening incidents before anyone got hurt.
"The more people we can get involved, the better," Janes said.
After the public forum, the board discussed the school's ability to accommodate menu nutrition requirements. Janes reported the staff has adequately adjusted the menu and participation in school meals has remained about the same. The school plans to review suggestions from USDA that may allow more flexibility in the school menu.
Janes reported attendance was down this month. She attributed that to a flu bug and expects numbers to return to normal next month.
This is the district's third year for the school's cleanest building program. Business manager Dana Ruhl said this campaign has caused the schools to use cleaning products more effectively and pursue new equipment for cleaning. Ruhl noted that cleaner buildings add to the overall learning environment. He also said the competition has steepened as most schools and the custodians have taken the project to heart.