Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2013, 7:29 pm

Davenport roundtable discussion addresses school safety

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By Eric Timmons,

School administrators are facing a tricky balancing act as they work to beef up security in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings while trying to maintain the image of schools as community centers.

"We cannot afford to be as welcoming as we used to be," Scott Martin, director of operations at North Scott School District, said during a roundtable discussion on school safety in Davenport on Tuesday.

North Scott Superintendent Art Tate said there was a "delicate balance" between maintaining schools as community institutions while adding more security cameras, armed guards and locked doors.

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, spoke at the roundtable and said there likely is no way to make schools "100 percent safe" from the kind of tragedy that struck at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.

Parents, teachers, school counselors, a student, a school board member and school administrators spoke at the roundtable at Wood Intermediate School.

The discussion centered on mental health issues and ways to strengthen security systems at schools with few mentions of tougher gun controls.

"I firmly believe this is not a gun control issue," said Stephanie Eckhardt, a counselor at West High School in Davenport. "We need to look at mental health issues."

Ms. Eckhardt said students with mental health problems face waiting lists to see specialists that can run to three months. Teachers with large class sizes often are too busy to spot problems as they juggle large class sizes and demanding schedules.

Rep. Loebsack said there is a "huge shortage" of psychiatrists but in a difficult fiscal environment it is hard to get increased funding for mental health services, even if investments in those services could lead to savings later on.

Rep. Loebsack and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, both want to see what they call "comprehensive" legislation to address school safety. Both have been talking to school and law enforcement officials since the Sandy Hook shooting to gain their input.

Neither lawmaker has said if they will support proposed legislation from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, which would ban assault weapons and put limits on magazine capacities. President Obama also has called for a ban on assault weapons and limits on magazine capacities.

Rep. Loebsack said he does support limiting magazine capacities and stronger background checks and could support a ban on assault weapons depending on how that is defined. Rep. Bustos has so far declined to state her position on those issues.

At the roundtable in Davenport, Rep. Loebsack said a bill on school safety may not even make it to the House.

"There's a real question over whether anything can get accomplished on this front," he said.

Mr. Martin said it was a mistake to think a tragedy similar to the one at Sandy Hook could not happen in the Quad-Cities.

"One of our greatest issues is a general misperception that it will never happen here," he said. "It will happen, that's the way we have to think about it and work backward from there."