Area Audrain County schools may be in for armed personnel to help provide increased student safety at the districts.
The Van-Far Board of Education during its regular December meeting discussed the potential for an SRO — or student resource officer — and other safety upgrades for student safety within the district.
Van-Far Superintendent Chris Felmlee said the district’s no-tax bonding capacity could be used to buffer the safety of students at Van-Far. The district was approved for $2.5 million worth of bonding capacity last year at the polls. The district only used about $1.4 million of that capacity.
As for armed personnel, the Audrain County Sheriff’s office may allow one shared SRO to the Van-Far, Community R-VI School, and Martinsburg’s St. Joseph Catholic School. The officer would be offered at no additional cost to the schools, paid through Audrain County Sheriff Stuart Miller’s budget. A proposal will be brought to the attention of the Audrain County Commissioner’s office for the next fiscal year.
Felmlee said the district looked at the option about three years ago. He said the officer was estimated at costing the district $70,000, which wasn’t feasible.
Aside from the potential SRO, Board Member Greg Frost asked about a buzzer-entry system and camera for the district’s main doors, which are now the only entry point into the elementary and junior and senior high schools, to further limit unwanted access to the district’s buildings.
“To do it right, we’re not designed for that,” Felmlee replied. “I would like to see some facility improvements done to allow that to happen.”
Felmlee said the ideal design would allow a person to enter an interior space and be contained in that area before being buzzed into building. He said keeping the person contained momentarily would allow staff to address potential threats in a more effective manner, as staff in the administration and secretary offices are unable to actually see who is coming into in any of the district’s buildings.
“The main thing within buildings is that you can always find a door that’s open,” Frost said. “It’s not only what you can do to expand but to make sure what you have (is secure): people are locking doors and not propping doors to make it easy for themselves. I see that in a lot of districts. I just know that happens in other districts. It’s just something you should be constantly aware of with your employees.”
Felmlee said the most appropriate way to institute a buzzer system would be to move the superintendent’s office to the high school office and vice versa.
Board Member Pete Nasir recommended a short-term fix of installing a camera and buzzer system on the doors now, with an option of using both in the future on “whatever situation we end up with eventually.”
Board Member Mark Udelhoven voiced concern about how convenient a buzz-in system would be and how the system would be implemented.
“You’re here to do a job and every four minutes you’re getting buzzed to where you may have to create a position to answer the buzzer,” Udelhoven said.
He said work at the school isn’t mindless, it requires thought and focus, so installing a buzzer system will take extra work to fine tune its implementation.
“Some of this stuff we hire people to do isn’t an after thought, they have to think and they have to think it through..,” he said. “…I don’t care if we buy a buzzer and a camera, but we better think through how we’re going to implement it, who we’re going to have to do it, and follow it all the way through, rather than just go buy a camera and do it.”
Frost said the system would be more simple to implement than was being anticipated.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Frost said. “We’re not that big a school, we have traffic in and out but there are schools that have more than we do.”
“I would like some time to study it and bring up proposals for the board,” Felmlee said, ending the discussion.
Aside from locking down unnecessary entries into the district’s buildings, other security updates include hand-held radios for staff to better facilitate communication. Additional cameras may also be purchased to increase surveillance of the campus. Discussion has surfaced about replacing interior doors and locks, making them more intruder proof, as well as replacing glass exterior doors with doors made of more stringent material. The “pods” at the elementary school have also been prioritized for security upgrades.
Staff at the elementary school has also been repositioned to better monitor the bus loop.
Felmlee said student enrollment at Van-Far for November came in at 598 district-wide with 352 students at the elementary school and 246 junior and senior high school students.
He said the district report card came in and is available at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website, http://www.mcds.dese.mo.gov.
For student eligibility in MSHSAA activities, he met with coaching staff to discuss the importance of citizenship. He said a separate meeting will be held to develop a mandatory drug testing policy for all MSHSAA sponsored activities. Felmlee said the new policy is hoped to be available for board approval by the regular May meeting.
Felmlee said the district lost its approval for dual credit biology coursework through Central Methodist University. He said the university is undergoing accreditation and ended its contract with Van-Far. The university requires dual credit teachers have a master’s degree with at least 18 hours of coursework in the discipline they teach. Van-Far is unable to meet this requirement for dual-credit in Biology 01 and Biology 101 coursework.
Van-Far had a previous agreement with the university that allowed the classes as dual credit under the instruction of John Griffith.
A dual-credit agreement that Griffith, who no longer teachers at Van-Far, would provide oversight to the current science teacher, Juli Hackethal, who carries a bachelor’s degree, will also not be honored as of next semester.
Felmlee proposed the district continues to offer dual-credit biology as an instructional television class from Central Methodist University, for which equipment was estimated to cost between $5,000 and $8,000. The board unanimously approved the plan.
For summer school, Felmlee said Van-Far will offer sessions for as long as Missouri maintains funding.