Maries R-2 awarded $429,675 grant for security as many BHS students report feeling unsafe at school

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 11/23/22

BELLE — Maries County R-2 Board of Education on Oct. 25 approved a $429,675 Department of Justice COPS Grant to increase overall security on both district campuses.

Superintendent Dr. Lenice …

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Maries R-2 awarded $429,675 grant for security as many BHS students report feeling unsafe at school

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BELLE — Maries County R-2 Board of Education on Oct. 25 approved a $429,675 Department of Justice COPS Grant to increase overall security on both district campuses.

Superintendent Dr. Lenice Basham told the board they were fortunate to receive the grant.

“We received about half a million dollars in a grant for security upgrades,” Basham told the board. “Ms. (Amy Kiso, a board member) has worked incredibly hard on this grant. I will tell you, I would have quit. Just the login process alone took me two weeks just to get everything approved through the Department of Justice — just to log in.”

Basham said the process to apply for the grant was incredibly time-consuming.

“I am incredibly grateful that Ms. Kiso stuck it out, because like I said when I couldn’t log in the first six times, I said I am not doing this anymore. She was very persistent and got this through.”

Basham told the board that they had an outside party come to the Bland campus last year, but wasn’t “crazy” about the grant application they put together.

“Amy did the one for the Belle campus and after we looked at all the things, she said ‘hey, there is this COPS grant out here that we can apply for that would help with all-security type things.’ So she completed it, she did it and we were approved.”

Basham asked the board for permission and approval to proceed with the grant. According to board documents, the district will need $125,000 for its portion of the upgrades. However, Basham mentioned $143,000 would be needed during the meeting.

“It’s a little bit more than we thought, but I think we are in a good place with the budget because we offset some things with ESSER funds and so we have a little more money that we can put to use for security purposes,” Basham said.

Kiso explained that the district may only use funds for those projects that were specifically written into the grant, and each project has a timeline.

“The way that I wrote it, we have certain projects that are due every three months,” Kiso began. “So each time we will get bids, the amount is going to change from year to year based on what comes out of our funds because the amount is based on what projects we are doing.”

Kiso mentioned parking lot lights, doorway and entryway safety systems were written into the grant. 

“We can’t do anything other than what has been written in,” she said again. “Handheld radios for all staff, including drivers. Kitchen staff even. A lot of cameras inside and outside. Bollards to keep vehicles from going where they shouldn’t. Cameras for the buses with GPS software that tells you where the bus is and when. My favorite thing —.”

“Lettering and numbering of all the windows so that if someone is outside we can report window 5A and they will know where that is,” Basham finished.

The numbering system Basham mentioned will include a numbers and letters combination that will face the outside, inside the classroom and the hallway and will all be numbered systematically so emergency services personnel can find classrooms easily.

“We will have to bid most of this stuff out,” Basham said. “So there will be a lot of bidding over the next few years. We are not expecting Tony and Travis to do the work. (Kiso) wrote there that it will be done by a contracted service so it gets done and doesn’t impact our custodial stuff.”

Basham asked the board to accept the grant.

“When the auditors came there were some things — and some new numbers from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) on finance. So I am going to revise our budget for next month. Our part for next year will be in the next revision of the budget. There is money there for that.”

Board Director Kenda Sanders made a motion to accept the grant and commit district funds to proceed. Director Dawn Hicks seconded the motion which passed with all in favor.

“I do believe that this is the largest grant we’ve received,” Basham said. “Like if I try to go back and think over my last 30 years, I think this is the largest grant that we have ever received for the district. That is very exciting.”

Kiso added that the district received the grant for free because she acted as a grant writer and didn’t receive the typical five percent fee.

“Look for exciting upgrades,” she added.

The security grant will allow a significant amount of security measures to be taken at a time when violence against the educational system is increasing. Many students at Belle High School have said they do not feel safe at school when it comes to school shootings, while a small percentage have said they feel safer at Belle High School because of its rural location, but add “you never know what could happen.”

Located just inside Belle High School’s main hallway are three wall displays — two feature school violence and a third question “When it comes to school shootings, do you feel safe at school?” 

Yellow Post-it notes inside the three-door glass display case show several responses, mostly from Anon-Student, that safety is the furthest thing they feel when they walk into school four days a week.

Responses include:

Kinda. Some kids seem violent.

Kinda. Not really. Because you never know when people have a weapon on them, such as a knife or a gun. You never know when you’re gonna get jumped in the bathroom or the classroom.

Yes. Nothing ever happens here.

No. Some kids make me feel unsafe.

Yes, I feel safe. I feel that our school is quick to alert us and respond accordingly.

One student goes into further depth:

“When it comes to school shootings, I believe we would be in a lot of trouble. At Belle, we have never conducted an active shooter drill. Teachers have been advised on what to do but what bout the students? I also believe that as teachers and students we need to pay attention to those who show characteristics of someone who would be willing to cause harm to other teachers and students. It doesn’t stop at guns either. Someone could walk in with a bomb strapped to them. The types of people that want to cause a mass casualty usually aren’t afraid to die themselves and to me, that’s a pretty scary trait to have. So all in all, no I do not feel safe at all. We need to do better and not be in the mindset that it will never happen to us because it could! It could happen at any time and we need to have a defense plan in place. Hunkering down isn’t the answer. We have to fight back!”

A few students mentioned they do not trust the police to help. Others say they don’t trust that office staff is enough to keep people who want to cause harm from gaining entry. Office staff member Courtney (first name only) agrees that the security system in place is not enough.

“Safe — No,” Courtney wrote for the board. “I feel like there are too many glass doors in this building. The office window (only) is bulletproof, but the front doors aren’t. Chances are that they aren’t coming in the front door, anyways. There are a lot of doors in this building and many times they are unlocked or propped open. Another problem is there isn’t anyone monitoring the cameras. I only have access to the front door. The principal has access to all of them, but how often is he really in his office with that computer up? If there is an intruder, how is the office going to communicate with other buildings to let them know where the intruder is? That should be the building secretary because they are the ones there most of the time. We don’t take this serious enough or practice drills enough because everyone thinks it isn’t going to happen in a small town. What happens if the principal is out of the building that day? We are all in trouble.”

BHS students are planning a presentation for the board about what they would like to see done to feel safer at school during the 7 p.m. board meeting that will be held on Nov. 29 at the Administration Building.

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