School leaders discuss safety at conference in Springfield, Mo.

Published: Jul. 8, 2019 at 5:43 PM CDT
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School leaders, law enforcement and community members met at an annual conference Monday to discuss school safety issues.

The Missouri School Board Association puts on the Safe Schools and Colleges Conference with its Center for Education Safety. This is the twelfth year for the conference, but the first time it was held in Springfield.

"School safety isn't just a school issue, it's a community issue," said Gerry Lee.

Lee is the Associate Executive Director with the MSBA and leads the Center for Education Safety. He's also a member of the Springfield Public Schools school board.

He said collaboration is key when it comes to keeping kids safe. He said the conference is for "schools, board members, law enforcement, school resource officers, state agencies" and parents.

Lee said preparing for possible shootings is only a small part of keeping schools safe. He said the bigger problems are mental health and behavioral issues.

"It's those things that build upon that that cause that to happen that we need to be addressing," Lee said.

Tom Wheeler is on the White House Commission on School Safety and the keynote speaker Monday. He said it's important to pay attention to mental health in schools.

"We think about law enforcement, we think about education, but really, the mental health piece is a huge segment of this," he said.

The conference kicked off with a session on "when educators become predators."

"It's a difficult thing to talk about, but it's happening. So how do we address it, how do we recognize it, how do we see it happening to protect our kids," Lee said.

It'll also cover online bullying, transportation and the impact of medical marijuana laws.

"Is a school nurse expected to administer that kind of medication? That's something we've got to talk about. We've got to put it out on a table and talk about it and not be afraid to talk about it," Lee said.

Lee and Wheeler say it's important to prevent and prepare for safety issues, not just reacting when they do.

"Whether it's predators, whether it's suicides, whether it's shooters, we've got to recognize those symptoms," said Lee. "School is still the safest place for kids to be. We just want to keep it that way."

The Safe Schools and Colleges Conference runs until Wednesday.