police escort for bus

With Gun Violence on the Rise, School District Seeks to Reassure Community

A tiger statue guards the main entry at Excelsior Springs High School (photo Courtney Cole).

In the wake of an increase of incidents across the United States involving gun violence towards civilians, including elementary-age school children, the Excelsior Citizen met with administrators and School Resource Officers (SROs) from the Excelsior Springs School District to discuss school safety measures they have in place to protect the children of Excelsior Springs. Excelsior Springs PD reserve officer, Jeff Kimsey, who oversees the safety of our schools was visibly upset as he spoke about the recent events in Uvalde, Texas. “I don’t know what the delayed response was about in that situation, that really hurts, looking at the little faces of the kids who lost their lives is just heart-breaking,” he said. Kimsey and other school officials shared with us the multitude of prevention and mitigation strategies that have been established in Excelsior Springs to minimize any event that might occur in our school district. 

Before coming to Excelsior Springs, Superintendent Travis Hux was an assistant superintendent in Raytown for 15 years where he was responsible for researching and implementing school safety measures. Hux says he’s very proud of the work he did there, and he explained that ESSD had already begun work to implement additional safety features before the most recent incidents occurred. “If you look at what’s in place in Raytown, I would say it’s top three safest school districts in the nation when it comes to processes, procedures, and equipment for intruder events, and my goal is to bring Excelsior Springs up to that same level,” said Hux. School safety is also incorporated into the key goals of the ESSD Continuous School Improvement Plan (CSIP) that was revised throughout the 2021-22 school year by an advisory committee made up of parents, students, community members, and education professionals. Hux reiterated that many of the goals outlined in the plan have already been implemented.

Goal 4.2 of the ESSD CSIP outlines safety plans for our schools.

Hux, Kimsey, and the SROs all take a keen interest in studying every aspect of events like the one that occurred in Uvalde. “We look at every one of these events for nuggets of information that we can apply so we don’t have to learn the lesson the hard way,” said Hux. He continued, saying one of the most important aspects of preparation is having a well-thought-out plan and then training teachers, staff, and students to utilize that plan in an emergency situation. Hux said that training empowers teachers and staff to be confident even in the event of a tragedy. “Something that comes out of every one of these events is that people see how caring the school staff and teachers are. They put their lives on the line for these kids. Being a teacher is a hard job anyway, but events like this make you realize they [teachers] may be the person who’s going to stand between your kid and a killer,” said Hux. In order to prepare staff, they are required to participate in annual training on intruder response, in some cases staff practice implementing safety measures in high-stress simulations. Additionally, staff are required to take online ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training which is practiced by staff and students throughout the year.

Hallways at the middle school are peaceful during the summer month (photo S Jason Cole).

In addition to Officer Kimsey, the school district supplies 75% of the funding for the Excelsior Springs Police Department to provide three School Resource Officers across the district. The high school and middle school each have a full-time SRO while the elementary schools and Early Childhood Center have an SRO that travels between the schools throughout the day. SRO, Samantha Nash-St. John said that the presence of SROs can seem a little intimidating at first, but they’re not only there for emergency situations, such as an intruder, but they also provide mentoring for students and additional support for staff. Officer Kimsey also noted that all officers on the Excelsior Springs Police Force receive training for school emergencies, and are familiar with the layout of each building. Additionally, all ESPD vehicles are issued card keys and barrel keys for quick entry into school buildings.

Communication and quick access to information are key in any emergency situation. Digital radios at each building are linked to other buildings, the buses, as well as ESPD to ensure quick response to any emergency. With approximately 350 video cameras in use throughout the district, in both interior and exterior locations, officials can keep a close eye on events in the schools. According to Hux, video is constantly recorded and kept on secure servers for an extended period of time in case there is an event that needs review. The Excelsior Springs Police Dispatch Center also has access to all security cameras throughout the district adding an extra layer of surveillance for the district.

Unlike some of the communities that have suffered from mass shootings in their schools, Excelsior Springs has extremely secure access points. Officer Kimsey explained that each of the buildings are equipped with a “guided single point of entry” that prevents visitors from entering the building beyond the front office foyer without permission. Each of these entry points is monitored by staff members and requires them to electronically unlock doors before individuals can enter the buildings. The school buildings utilize magnetic locks which engage immediately upon closure and help to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering. 

Starting June 1st ESSD implemented a full-time “soft lockdown” practice, meaning that office and classroom doors will be locked at all times throughout the school day, preventing intruders from simply walking into an open classroom and reducing the necessary reaction time of staff. This spring every classroom in the district was equipped with a barricade system on each door that can be installed within seconds. To help monitor who should and shouldn’t be in the schools, personal identification in the form of school-issued photo IDs are given to all staff and must be displayed at all times. Visitors to buildings must present a valid ID and are then issued a temporary sticker ID after an electronic background check is conducted.

Door safety devices as the one shown here have been installed on every classroom door in the district (photo S Jason Cole).

Overall, ESSD has worked hard to take measures to be ready in the event that someone makes an attack on our schools. Cornerstone principal, Brian Sloan who is starting his third year in Excelsior Springs said he feels extremely confident in the safety of his students and staff, “What we have in place here is more thorough than any other district that I’ve worked in,” he said. 2022 has already seen more than 200 mass shootings and 27 school shootings making it understandable why citizens and parents are on high alert when it comes to protecting their loved ones against this alarming trend. It is somewhat comforting to know that in the unlikely event that violence does descend upon our schools, administrators, teachers, and staff are doing all they can to be ready.  “Can it happen? Yes. Is it likely to happen? No. But because the possibility exists we have a plan and we are prepared,” said Hux. 

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