Jessica Hartmann | Lindenlink Contributor
Identifying students with mental health issues and installing locks are just a few of the safety recommendations given to local schools from a countywide task force formed in response to the recent Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
Officials from across St. Charles County came together earlier this year to focus on the safety of the county’s schools. It was the first time school officials from across the county have come together to focus on procedures related to school shootings.
Vice President of Student Development at Lindenwood University, Dr. John Oldani, was part of the task force committee. He said the purpose “was for us to gather information, and once we got that information to disseminate it to the schools and the agencies.”
The task force has no government authority so its report on preventative measures and reaction plans to school shootings are just recommendations.
One of the task force’s main focuses was on the early detection of mental health issues in students. When talking about ways to help prevent tragedies like the Sandy Hook and Columbine shootings, the report states, “It is critical to identify students exhibiting mental health issues at a young age to provide them access to the proper service they need, in the hopes of preventing more serious and dangerous issues as the child grows up.”
Lindenwood University’s Student Counseling and Resource Center, located at the Cultural Arts Center, was established in January 2007 for that purpose. As Dr. Oldani pointed out, services that would normally cost students thousands of dollars are available to them for free.
Marsha Andreoff, a counselor at Lindenwood, says the center sees an average of 50 to 60 new students each semester. However, she said, the types of students who seek counseling are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than homicidal.
It is up to professors and staff to help recognize troubled students, and although LU doesn’t have a specific program for this, Andreoff said “several teachers have contacted her with concerns.” Students were then brought in and treated.
The university is making some other changes that were sparked by the organization’s recommendations.
“President Dr. Evans has already approved the installation of locks on the inside of every classroom on campus,” Dr. Oldani said.
According to John Bowman, director of Public Safety and Security at Lindenwood, 140 locks have been installed so far, and professors will soon be receiving instructions on when to use them in an emergency. The expense of this project was covered by a general maintenance fund.
Although LU is making an effort to create an even safer learning environment for students, some challenges remain. The university is not like a K-12 school that has minimal movement of students in and out of one building through a restricted number of doors.
The fact that people are constantly moving from building to building on a university’s campus makes it impossible to implement suggestions in task force reports like “maintaining controlled access to school facilities.”
Bowman said safety procedures are currently being reviewed and updated and will be posted to lindenwood.edu once they are approved.
“Lindenwood takes the safety and security of its students very seriously.” Oldani said. ”We were involved in the LU Safety Task Force before the Sandy Hook tragedy. That tragedy, and every school tragedy, underscores the importance of providing a safe environment for our students.”