On Thursday, the 10th school shooting occurred this year when nine individuals became the victims of a senseless killing at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
President Barack Obama in his remarks to the nation commented that he feels Americans have become numb to the killings as the events have become all too common.
For the Sedalia School District 200, State Fair Community College, the Sedalia Police Department and the Pettis County Sheriff’s Department, numb is not a word that applies to any act of violence; being prepared is.
“The side of every police car says ‘Protect and Serve.’ I think our philosophy at Sedalia 200 is ‘Protect and Educate,’” Superintendent Brad Pollitt said. “The safety and education of our students is our No. 1 priority; it always has been and it always will be.”
Pollitt said the shootings yesterday had no immediate effect on the district because, in his words, “safety is at the forefront of everything we do.”
Three years ago after the violence in the Sandy Hook School District in Connecticut, Sedalia 200 made major investments in upgrading the security in place at all district buildings.
Each building has security entrances and an intercom system where visitors to a school must be allowed to enter the building.
The district also employs armed security officers in the schools, as does SFCC. The officers are present both in the schools and at extracurricular events.
“We provide a uniformed presence day in and day out at the schools,” Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said. “We have had officers in place for eight years in Sedalia and recently started at SFCC.
“Those officers work closely with school administrators and we try to take a proactive approach with this,” he added. “The key is to be aware.”
Sedalia Police Chief John DeGonia agreed with Bond.
“Any situation at a school is very different because you can’t rush into the situation,” DeGonia said. “You may not know who the person you are dealing with is or the number involved.
“It’s not a wait-and-see plan, but you do have to find the threat and neutralize it as quickly as possible,” DeGonia added. “All schools and facilities need to have a plan in place and practice that plan.”
As a college, SFCC has some unique problems because of the make-up of its student body.
“As soon as we are aware of an emergency on campus that constitutes a potential threat to the safety of the campus community or property, we would issue a timely warning in accordance with SFCC policy and regulation,” according to information provided by the college.
“This communication is done through SFCC Alert, a text/email notification system and in other internal communication venues.”
As with Sedalia 200, SFCC has training with its staff and faculty not only for threats of violence but for natural disasters as well.
The knowledge of the staff and the level of comfort the students have toward the staff is one of the most important factors at the district’s disposal, according to Pollitt.
“Our students look up to the staff for leadership,” Pollitt said. “The staff has to be a role model and they need to know how to react in a given situation.
“We constantly work on building positive relationships with the students, and because of that trust, often if a student senses there is a situation that could cause harm to others, they will report it to us,” Pollitt added. “We can potentially prevent things from occurring because of that trust.”
Bond too feels that is an important factor.
“Always be aware of your surroundings; it’s key,” Bond said. “A person shouldn’t be paranoid, but look at what is going on in the world around you and if it seems threatening, report it.”
“We pray something like the event of yesterday never happens here or anywhere for that matter,” DeGonia said, “But we will do our job to protect our citizens.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484