A proposal that would make it a crime to cause a school to go on lockdown stems from an incident January 16, when a reporter for St. Louis TV Station KSDK triggered a lockdown at Kirkwood High School.
Kirkwood School District and City officials have testified in favor of that bill at a House Committee hearing.
The lockdown happened when a KSDK reporter doing a story on school security entered the High School, signed in, asked to use the bathroom but then went a different direction in the hallway.
Kirkwood Superintendent Tom Williams says the man never identified himself as a reporter and only signed in with a name and phone number, as is the school’s normal procedure. When staff thought the man acted suspiciously they called the number he left. The man said he was a reporter, but the station wouldn’t confirm his story. Williams says that is when the school went on lockdown.
“After two hours … the news station finally called to verify that the individual was actually working on an assignment for KSDK.”
The station that night ran a story about breaches in the school’s security.
“We acknowledge that we made mistakes. We acknowledge that we had some breakdowns and some flaws in our security procedures,” says Williams. “However the action of KSDK was dangerous and very inappropriate, especially in today’s environment.”
Representative Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) challenged Williams’ assessment that the reporter was at fault.
“A gentleman walked into a building, walked around the building and left the building and the school had no procedures in place to stop that individual from coming into the school,” says Ellington. “It seems like we want to pass a bill to stop people from exposing holes in a system when there shouldn’t be holes in that system.”
Representative John McCaherty (R-High Ridge) says whether the reporter was right or wrong and whether the school has “holes” in its security are not the issues.
“The reality of it is,” says McCaherty, “that [the reporter] put children, teachers, himself and possibly police officers in danger by what he did.”
Kirkwood Police Chief Jack Plummer asked legislators to understand how seriously he viewed the situation.
“Quite frankly if we’d have confronted [the reporter] on the campus and he’d have made any kind of movements that my people would have determined to be threatening, we’d have killed him.”
A parent of a Kirkwood High School junior, Jennifer Wilton, told lawmakers the incident was “terrifying” for her and other parents.
“It’s not the job of the news media to test security systems,” says Wilton. “I also don’t think it’s their place to manufacture the news.”
The legislation (HB 1522), sponsored by Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) would make the actions of that reporter on January 16 a felony. It would make it a crime for a person to make a threat to the security of a building or public school by making a false report that jeopardizes security procedures or knowingly causing a false belief or fear that triggers initiation of security procedures. It also makes it a crime to expose the internal security procedures of a building or public school.
The School Administrators Association, the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri School Board Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Missouri State Teachers Association and the Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis all testified in favor of the legislation.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri testified against the bill and cited concerns that its language could restrict an individual’s freedom of speech based on the actions of another entity. ACLU lobbyist Jay Hardenbrook said his organization would work with the sponsor to change that wording.