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Troopers, officers to visit schools

Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers will soon be strolling the hallways of the Farmington, Central, Bismarck and West County school districts to provide a comforting and friendly presence for teachers and students. The North County School District has worked out a similar arrangement with the Desloge and Bonne Terre police departments.

In response to a number of high profile school shootings that have occurred across the nation in recent weeks, local and state law enforcement agencies are offering to lend a hand to St. Francois County Schools in helping to provide a safer learning environment for students and staff.

Both the West County and Bismarck school districts have sent home letters to parents and guardians in recent days informing them that administrators have taken up an offer made by the Missouri State Highway Patrol to have state troopers walk the halls during school hours.

Bismarck Superintendent Jason King explained the program at a recent meeting of the board of education, saying, “I had a conversation the other day with Cpl. Juston Wheetley with the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP). They are starting a new initiative and they’re calling it the MSHP Walk-Through Initiative.

"What they’re looking at doing is on days that they have downtime, or days when they’re not overwhelmed with things to do, they’re going to start spending that downtime in area schools doing random walk-throughs in the buildings.

“This is not going to be a daily thing. Maybe three to five times a month they’re going to try to get into various schools and just be visible — put their car out front and let people see that, as well — and just talk to kids a little bit and try to build some relationships with staff and that sort of thing. He really wanted to know if we were interested and I said, ‘We absolutely are interested and would welcome such a thing.’ So, they’re working on that.”

In addition to providing added visibility on and around campus, King and West County Superintendent Stacy Stevens said the patrol also offered to perform programs about general safety and various state laws, as time permits during regular school hours.

“Our school was not chosen as a result of any study, safety concern or worry related to any preexisting safety problems,” Stevens said. “We welcome the presence of our local state troopers who are part of our community and view this as an opportunity to enhance the safety of our existing school safety plan.”

While an information letter to parents won’t be going out until after spring break, Farmington Associate Superintendent Dr. Ashley Krause said the school district is excited about having the presence of troopers on campus.

“As soon as we get back from spring break we will start having conversations with MSHP and send letters home,” she said. “I honestly think the elementary kids are going to adore it and love it. I think it will be decently natural at the high school because we have a criminal justice class at the high school which my husband teaches. He brings in troopers all the time to speak in class.

“We are very welcoming. I think it’s wonderful. I love it even when the cars are around. Sometimes we’re alerted, and people will say, ‘What’s going on?’ but as long as you let parents know that, there’s no problem. I think it’s a great thing they’re doing.”

According to Central Superintendent Dr. Desi Mayberry, a letter was sent out to teachers Friday afternoon making them aware of the MSHP’s upcoming presence on all school district campuses in order to allay any concerns they might have when seeing troopers at their school.

“I’ll be sending out a letter to parents next week to make them aware of this, as well,”

Meanwhile, the North County School District is taking a slightly different approach, having entered into a cooperative agreement with the Desloge and Bonne Terre police departments to enhance the safety of its students and staff.

“All North County schools will allow police officers to visit our campus on a random basis with no specific agenda,” said Superintendent Dr. Yancy Poorman. “The safety of students and staff is our top priority. We plan to be diligent and proactive in safeguarding all students while in our care.

“We believe this action will enhance our building site security and allow our students to become more comfortable with the presence of our local police department. The local police departments are an excellent resource in the safety and security of our school and community.”

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Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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