Last month’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas — the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history — sent shock waves across the country and beyond.
Ten days before, on May 14, a racist attack at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket killed 10 people. The white gunman faces murder, state domestic terrorism and hate crime charges, in addition to others. Since the Uvalde attack, one report says 33 mass shootings have occurred in the U.S.
These violent acts have brought renewed attention to Kansas City school safety, and how schools secure their premises to protect students, teachers, other staff and visitors.
Here is a look at the security procedures some of the districts have in place and how schools work with students to process traumatic events.
Kansas City school safety procedures: Door locks, screenings, school resource officers
Kansas City Public Schools continues following its established school security procedures in the wake of the Texas shooting, district spokesperson Elle Moxley said.
In an email, Moxley described the district’s security procedures, which include locking all exterior doors in schools before, during and after each school day.
Security cameras allow staff to check a visitor’s photo identification and enter the information into the school’s security software before granting entry. Visitors can then enter the main part of the school only by staff electronically granting access through three checkpoints.
Badge access controls other exterior doors, which automatically relock. If any of these doors remains open, it trips an alarm.
The district has armed Kansas City Police Department school resource officers (SROs) at its high schools based on need; site-based security teams — a mix of armed and unarmed — and at least one supervisor at all secondary schools; and 24 armed mobile patrol security officers who provide security districtwide.
KCPS security officers receive more than 60 hours of training a year, including active-shooter and emergency medical training, and emphasize de-escalation training. KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell declined to comment.
DeLaSalle Education Center, a high school at 3737 Troost Ave. in Kansas City, Missouri, uses a metal detector at its front door, Executive Director Sean Stalling said. A security guard checks students’ bags.
The school has three security guards, all unarmed. One is stationed at the front desk and two others patrol the school’s interior to check doors, entry points and hallways and its exterior perimeter and grounds. Visitors are electronically given access through the front door, enter the front desk area and sign in, and then enter the school’s main area.
Stalling is originally from Chicago, and the school’s protocols replicate many aspects of Chicago schools’ security procedures, “so these aren’t as shocking for me, but we also had more armed police officers visibly present in those schools.” DeLaSalle doesn’t use armed police officers because Stalling believes “we can’t police ourselves out of schools.”
“And I worry that if that becomes our response as a system, that we’re going to highlight criminalization of students, and it’s going to lead to more of the school-to-prison pipeline, and that does not work well, especially in the urban areas, particularly with students of color,” he said. “It’s a risky proposition to do that. The events are tragic and we have to figure out how to be as safe as possible. I’m not sure bringing armed officers or arming our teachers is the best way.”
Security procedures at North Kansas City Schools are similar to those at other schools, said Rob McLees, the district’s director of safety and security. All the district’s schools have secured entrances with controlled access. Visitors must show a photo ID, which is then scanned into a visitor-management system “so we know who’s in our school if something happens or we can go back and see who’s in our school at specific times.”
All NKC schools have command centers as an extra security level. Visitors check in there before entering the school using the same visitor-management system. The centers monitor cameras for all district schools. If a problem arises, the system monitors it with a live feed that’s also recorded.
“If you have an emergency, it’s very beneficial for law enforcement to be able to talk to someone about what is occurring right this moment,” McLees said.
Before each school year starts, all district staffers take active-shooter training inside their schools’ classrooms, offices and other work areas. Technology is important, “but you really need to be able to put it into use, and that’s why we do training scenarios.”
McLees and his counterparts at other area districts also attend quarterly meetings of school security directors, started several years ago by the director for Liberty Public Schools. They share security practices at the meetings and throughout the year.
NKCS uses armed SROs from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and local police departments. The officers are assigned to specific high schools and middle schools. Four other officers visit all elementary schools daily.
The Kansas City Police Department provides training to any school or business on request and gets an average of 50 such requests a year, KCPD spokesperson Capt. Leslie Foreman said in an email. The KCPD shares ideas on prevention and teaches Run, Hide, Fight training.
Interim KCPD Chief Joseph Mabin declined to comment.
How school officials talk with students about school shootings
At DeLaSalle, staff recognize the incidents as a “trauma issue,” which triggers a “trauma response,” Stalling said. Many DeLaSalle students have experience with this kind of trauma because they see or experience violence in their neighborhoods, “so that violence is real to them.”
North Kansas City Schools share information with teachers on how to talk with students about traumatic incidents and how to help their students process them. The approach outlines five steps: Find calm, condemn violence, offer reassurance, pause and consider “leading a circle” for students to share their thoughts and feelings, and then lead a circle.
Helping students with disabilities
KCPS considers students with disabilities in its building safety plans, which are developed by site-based teams and are based on the needs of students at each school, Moxley said. For example, schools might identify routes suitable for students in wheelchairs. Plans include having staff assist students during emergencies.
NKC schools work with the district’s special education department to tailor help for students. District spokesperson Susan Hiland said in an email that students with disabilities participate in all safety drills conducted by the district’s schools.
Stalling said DeLaSalle hasn’t had issues regarding students with disabilities, though school staff know which students have medical problems and would help them exit the building if necessary. To help students process difficult situations, the school relies on its Kairos (Greek for “right time to act”) Team to address mental health by helping to reduce anxiety. For example, a student can take a 15-minute “brain break” and play chess with the dean of students or another team member to reduce anxiety.
Collaboration on Kansas City school safety policies
The factors that cause school shootings are “layered,” Stalling said. They include inadequate mental health services, bullying and adults who are disconnected with young people. The COVID-19 pandemic, he added, isolated students at home, increased their anxiety and prevented them from getting help available at school. And the widening political divide plays a detrimental role.
“There’s a growing frustration that has occurred in this country, and people are angry … on both sides … and we do have an issue with gun control, and there’s a fear on both sides,” Stalling said.
McLees noted that the U.S. Secret Service publishes a yearly guide called “Averting Targeted School Violence,” which explores causes and common characteristics of school shooters. The guide provides a protocol for evaluating threats by students and nonstudents. NKCS also refers such students and their families to mental health resources.
The best hope for solving the nation’s rate of gun violence comes through common sense, data, governmental policies and conversations among opposing sides, Stalling said.
“We have to look at the data in this country and realize we have a lot of resources and freedoms and we’re leading the way with mass violence,” he said. “How do you address that? Everything else is data-driven. So, we have to look at it that way.”
Stalling said that, though he’s not a politician, “I’m a father and I have common sense.”
“When I worry about my daughters and their health and their well-being because of where they live or what school they go to or where they choose to eat or where they choose to go to church, that’s a real fear. I can’t say I’m the only father in this country that has that concern … and I’m not the only school leader with those concerns.”
Politicization worsens the problem, he said. Society must improve at “really coming together and talking with the idea that there has to be repair, (that) there has to be healing in this country.”
“Because the direction we’re going, it’s going to be … a war of every man against every man,” Stalling said. “And we don’t want that because we’re not going to be a healthy society. We’re not healthy right now as a society. And so, we have to do better.”