JEFFERSON CITY - In the wake of shootings in Colorado last week, Gov. Mel Carnahan created a task force to study school violence Tuesday.
Carnahan appointed 11 leaders to the new School Violence Task Force after discussing the massacre in Littleton, Colo. He said last week's events should remind Missourians this sort of tragedy can happen anywhere.
"As a community, not the big state or federal government, we need to be looking to each other, helping each other," he said.
The task force will hold several public meetings to talk with students, parents and teachers from around the state. The group will ultimately use this information to draft recommendations for the state's schools.
Carnahan said he hopes these suggestions will help schools identify and counsel potentially violent students. He also said he hopes better preparations can be made if a school shooting were to occur.
"Certainly, we'd want to have the people in place to respond quickly," he said. "We think we could do a better job by having model crisis plans," he said.
But even after the nation's fifth school shooting in 18 months, Carnahan said he wants Missouri students to know their schools are not dangerous.
"I would reassure them that, statistically, schools are still safe places," he said.
Carnahan said Missouri has already passed several bills that seek to reduce school violence. He said the General Assembly approved a juvenile crime bill in 1995 that allows juveniles who commit violent crimes to be tried as adults.
Carnahan also said the legislature passed his Safe Schools Initiative in 1996, which allows for students to be suspended for a year for bringing a weapon to school. Currently, 260 schools are participating in the Safe Schools program.
Jackie White, deputy director of the Department of Mental Health, is among those on the new task force. White said it's too early to predict what the recommendations might be since many people need to be consulted.
"I'm looking to get input from students, teachers, administrators and parents on the really important issues that might come up," she said. "There are multiple facets involved here, so it's important to hear from every side."
Chris Mallory, assistant superintendent at Columbia Public Schools, said active debate on school violence is important. Mallory said the district is in the Safe Schools program, but has seen its money decrease lately.
"We have had, over the years, perhaps a little more funding that has trailed off in recent years," he said.
Although Mallory said this has caused the district to cut back on a few security measures, he said adequate security is visible at local schools. He also said groups such as the task force can do nothing but raise the awareness and dialogue around the state.
"Anything we can do as a community, as a state to help discuss security issues is for the better," he said. "It's important to keep the debate on the issue in the forefront."