Local school leaders say they plan to use their holiday breaks to review security plans in the wake of the Friday school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and a scary false alarm Tuesday near Union School in Belleville.
Matt Klosterman, Belleville District 118 superintendent, said school leaders and police were pleased with the performance of security plans enacted Tuesday when a teenager with a pellet gun was seen walking along the railroad tracks near Union School. The school and nearby Lindenwood University were notified as police swarmed the area and apprehended the teen.
"Fortunately, it turned out to be a non-threatening situation," Klosterman said. "But, for a while, we had no way of knowing that. So everyone did the right thing. The school was locked down and the police were called. After the situation settled down, it was comforting to see how quickly law enforcement was able to arrive in force."
Tensions have been high since the Newtown shootings, and school officials are responding with caution.
On Wednesday, a 10-year-old student at Marie Schaefer School in O'Fallon said she was followed by a man to a bus stop where he asked her if she needed a ride.
A short time later, the same man was seen near the St. Clare School chapel. Police responded, but the suspect had left the area.
"To err on the side of caution, we are holding all recesses inside today and would ask that you please enter through the Goelz Hall doors at the end of the day and pick up your child in the gym," St. Clare Principal Melissa Faust wrote in an email to parents. The suspect was described as a black male in his 20s with dreadlocks in his hair. He was wearing a black stocking cap and black shirt and drove a Gold Chrysler Pacifica with tinted windows, police said.
Collinsville also had a scare this week when a couple of students were talking about a case of a gun brought to a St. Louis school.
"Someone who overheard them thought they were talking about a shooting that was going to take place in Collinsville," District 10 Superintendent Robert Green said. "It was a misunderstanding. But we take every threat seriously. And we want to let parents know that we're paying attention."
Klosterman said security plans always have room for improvement.
"We're always looking for new ways to keep the kids safer," he said. "It's not something that happens overnight or that will be done by the end of Christmas break. It's something that happens more incrementally. But we're going to be talking about it."
Green said his staff already is working on security improvements in the wake of the Connecticut shootings. He said a major source of concern is the system of using security buzzers on the front door. In Connecticut that system was in place, but the shooter simply shot out the glass and rushed into the school.
"There's no such thing as a foolproof system," Green said. "A lot of our schools are older and when they were designed and built it wasn't with today's problems in mind."
Green said money in Collinsville is tight -- just like in other schools -- but he is considering using money from a tort fund to pay for upgrades to District 10 buildings.
Belleville Township High School District 201 Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer said leaders in his school system will get together this week to discuss potential improvements.
"In fact, we have a meeting scheduled for Friday morning with the director of buildings and grounds. We have contacted several providers of security alarm systems and access control systems to do a thorough review of all our programs."
One thing District 201 has that most elementary school districts can't afford is school resource officers -- actual, certified police officers who carry a gun -- who are on campus full time.
"We have 11 schools, so I don't know if it is practical to hire 11 full-time police officers," District 118's Klosterman said. "That works in a high school district where they have one or two schools. But our budget is strained as it is. It's hard to imagine being able to afford something like that. But we're open-minded to anything that will help to keep kids safe."
Collinsville's Green, however, said he thinks armed guards might be something the district has to consider.
"I'd hate to think we've come to that in this country," he said, "but maybe we have. The question is, how do we pay for it? We're trying to maintain the staff we have, not add more people."
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.