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Legislators look to make schools safe

February 14, 1996
By: Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Working to make Missouri's schools safer is a popular activity in the state capital this year. Several legislative efforts, in the House and the Senate, aim to cut down on school violence.

One bill, sponsored by

  • Sen. Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, is on its way to the Senate floor after being approved by the Education Committee Tuesday night.

    The bill focuses on keeping troublemakers who shouldn't even be in a particular school, out of that school. The bill requires the parents of students to show proof of residency in the school district at the time of the child's registration.

    Ehlmann said this is in response to reports that gangs have been going from school to school to recruit new members.

    "If a kid walks into a school and gives an address in the district, right now the school has to give them their books and send them off to class," Ehlmann said. "We need to make sure kids are in the right schools."

    Ehlmann's bill includes other measures to cut down on school violence, many of which are the same included in Gov. Mel Carnahan's proposals. But Ehlmann said this is another example of Carnahan's stealing Republicans' ideas.

    "We've had this bill around for three years," Ehlmann said. "Five of the governor's eight [proposals] were included in last year's bill. It's good to see he's joined the fight but it's a shame we first had to have two people die in the St. Louis school district."

    Meanwhile, Carnahan's safe schools initiative is on the fast track in the House. The legislation has made its way into the Science, Technology and Critical Issues Committee in the form of two different bills, one sponsored by Rep. Steve McLuckie, D-Kansas City, the other by Rep. Brian May, D-St. Louis.

    McLuckie said he and May filed the two separate bills, which only differ slightly, so that the committee could combine them into one and save time.

    The meat of the governor's proposal allocates $10 million for the purpose of establishing alternative schools. School districts would receive this money in the form of grants by applying to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

    The bills set forth guidelines under which the department will award the money. These guidelines stress collaboration and a comprehensive approach to the problem of violent and disruptive students.

    Besides setting up funding for alternative schools, the bills have a number of ways to deal with school violence.

    One of the main goals of the legislation is increasing communication between the juvenile court system, school districts and law enforcement officials by requiring them to exchange information with each other.

    Backers of the bills say schools sometimes do not report serious incidents to the proper authorities, for fear of the resulting negative publicity.

    "Schools have a tendency to take care of things internally that, on the street, would be considered felonies," May said.

    The legislation would require schools to report serious incidents to law enforcement officials. It also would require the juvenile court system to notify a student's superintendent when that child is taken into custody for a felony offense.

    The bills other provisions include instruction of faculty members in discipline policy, better record keeping on disruptive students who transfer schools and enhanced punishment for assaulting teachers.

    Overall, the governor's initiative has received strong support from lobbyists and administrators in education.

    "For the past several years polls have shown the public regards safe schools as important," said Bob Bartman, commissioner of education. "Teachers can't teach and students can't learn in schools where safety is the number one concern."

    But some have raised questions about the plan's practicality.

    Jay Wood, a lobbyist for the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association, said the juvenile court system might have problems dealing with the amount of paperwork created by the proposal. Wood also questioned whether the information provided to schools would be used properly.

    "Let's face it; there are going to be kids kicked out of schools because of some crimes they commit," Wood said. "When I was a kid I had friends who are now lawyers, doctors and so forth who might not be if this applied back then."

    The committee will consider the testimony it's heard and most likely approve a single compromise bill Monday night, McLuckie said.