FESTUS, Mo. — School safety continues to be a top priority across the state.
Just this week 169 Missouri school districts received grants from the newly created School Safety Grant Program.
$20 million was allocated from Governor Parson’s Fiscal Year 2023 early supplemental budget request.
Many of those include St. Louis area districts. Including Jennings, Riverview Gardens, Kipp and City Garden Montessori.
Many other districts received grants such as Festus, Steelville, St. Clair, De Soto, St. James, Potosi and Richwoods.
Festus R-6 School District Superintendent Nicki Ruess said this is vital.
“It’s a priority, we have to be prepared. As leadership of the school, we take that really seriously. We want to make sure that all of those things are taken care of so the students can come in, and just worry about learning. That’s why it was so important,” she said.
Safety upgrades have been on administrators’ minds at the district for a while now, according to Ruess.
“Before we even knew there was the availability of the grant, we had already put plans in motion to do these enhancements anyway,” she said.
That’s why, when Ruess heard the state was allocating money for this, she didn’t waste any time.
“Applications were due April 7 and so I had mine in as soon as I knew. We turned in the application and we found out April 28. We were so fortunate to be able to be one of those schools. It was a pretty quick turnaround process,” she said.
According to Ruess, Festus received $350,000 to enhance safety.
“Unfortunately, the world we live in has changed. It’s something that people don’t like to talk about but it’s definitely a necessary item,” she said.
Most of the money from this grant will go toward safety film, video surveillance upgrades, enhanced training and added equipment for school resource officers, according to Ruess.
“Being able to stay up to date with all of those things just gives everyone piece of mind that we are making every effort to keep the building safe,” she said.
Corporal Mike Cavaness, Festus School Resource Officer, said he was “elated” when he found out they got the money.
“We had already had some ideas of purchasing equipment to upgrade, as far as school safety, to better equip the school resource officers and better equip the buildings and to fund additional training for the district,” he said.
Corporal Cavaness has been protecting the district since 2015.
“School safety has evolved a lot. We go to nonstop training for school safety. Ironically, Missouri, they say, is the safest state for school safety,” he said.
With that evolution comes new ways to protect everyone who walks the halls, according to Corporal Cavaness.
“One of the things I’m most excited about is getting a safety film for the windows, so we can fortify the entryways and all exterior entrances to the buildings,” he said.
Corporal Cavaness said the new tool is bullet-resistant and will keep the window intact.
“It will keep an intruder out and by time in seconds, is what we are looking for, to increase a better response in a short amount of time,” he said.
Ruess said the district already had many things in place like trauma bags and secured entryways.
“Our students should be able to come to school and learn and be focused on learning and not worry about safety,” she said.
Corporal Cavaness said they hope the new enhancements will give everyone peace of mind.
“Priority one, it’s paramount to keep these kids safe in their school environment,” he said.
The Festus School District said improvements would start as early as this summer.
More schools across the state could have the chance to enhance safety too. If approved by the General Assembly, an additional $50 million would be given to the program.