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Olathe school officials told at town hall that children ‘don’t feel safe’ after March's shooting

Brent Kriger talks from a stage at an Olathe School District town hall.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Brent Kiger, the Olathe School District’s director of safety services, answered questions from parents a month after a school shooting.

The Olathe School District shared its security plans in the wake of a school shooting that left a school administrator and school resource officer wounded.

Parents in the Olathe School District — still reeling from a shooting that left a school administrator and resource officer wounded — pressed officials Tuesday night to install metal detectors.

Around 50 people attended a town hall following last month’s shooting at Olathe East High School.

Jaylon Elmore, an 18-year-old student, has been charged with attempted capital murder for shooting officer Erik Clark. District officials at the town hall said they could not provide details on the March 4 incident because of an ongoing investigation.

But Brent Kiger, the school district’s director of safety services, said drawbacks come with metal detectors. He said forcing students to use just one or two entrances would create a bottleneck when thousands of students enter the school at once and would require hiring more workers to operate the metal detectors.

“There’s a lot of logistics that really pose a lot of challenges,” Kiger said. “They're not a failproof system… They're not a guarantee.”

Kiger and other first responders also gave an overview into multi-layered safety plans in place at all of the district’s schools. That included a look at how the district follows alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate, or ALICE, safety response protocols to give options for school staff in the event of an active shooter.

He said the district also uses a mobile app and hotline for community members to anonymously report safety and security issues and its school resource officer program that puts an Olathe Police officer in each of its middle and high schools.

Still, Kiger said the relationships between staff and students form the backbone of the district’s security measures.

“It’s the relationships that our staff carry with our students, where they're trusted adults and our students feel like they can come forward and mention any safety concern,” Kiger said.

District officials also said security at the school would improve thanks to a $298 million bond passed just days before the shooting. The bond included access control system updates at all schools, more cameras at elementary schools and sports complexes and upgrades for district radios.

Melissa Fisher, a parent of an Olathe East student, said she was proud of how the district handled the incident at the high school. But she worried about what safety measures the district has to protect against an attacker inside a school building — rather than ways to keep people out.

“Because when your child asks you, ‘Mom, I don't feel safe at school,’ I don't know what to say,” Fisher said. “I'm not sure I can guarantee that you should feel safe at school.”

She was also critical of reductions in the student wellness program that came as a part of a $28 million dollar budget cut.

District officials said that the number of student wellness advocates will be reduced in the next school year, but the district will continue partnering with Johnson County Mental Health to provide support to staff and students.

District officials said that they’re conducting an internal investigation to review their safety protocols after the shooting.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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