School shootings have become all too common. The latest school shooting left 17 dead at a Florida high school and a nation, once again, questioning how to curb the violence. The shooting took place in a community described as one of the safest in Florida, yet on Wednesday, a 19-year-old walked on campus armed with an AR-15 and opened fire, once again, reinforcing that it can happen anywhere.
Every school shooting raises the questions that school administrators face, what if hit happens here.  
 In Rolla, the school administration takes school shootings seriously, and has a proactive approach about keeping students safe, according to Superintendent Dr. Aaron Zalis. The superintendent’s comments were made while  attending a national conference for  superintendents, where the subject of the Florida shooting was a main topic.

Zalis said Rolla Public Schools (RPS) is constantly thinking of the safety of the students from the moment they step foot on the school bus. According to him, RPS has a “three-pronged” approach to safety.

The first, he said, is the actual design of their facilities. Anytime improvements or additions are made to a school building, entrances and exits are given special attention and safety remains a priority when they are designed.

Secondly, Zalis said the district strives to make sure each staff member is trained on what to do in these sorts of situations, and beyond that, maintains staff relations with students to foster communication.

Communication with local police is also key, according to Zalis, and the schools makes sure officers are well acquainted not only with the school buildings, but the students who learn in them. Local police officers even have lunch accounts with the schools so they can come in and eat lunch with students. This way, students can feel at ease with law enforcement, and are less likely to feel uncomfortable when the need to reporting something arises.

Finally, Zalis said the district actively practices emergency procedures, and regularly meets with emergency responders to discuss them. The last such meeting was only two weeks ago.

“We never think we’re immune to these kinds of actions,” he said. “We’ve always had a proactive approach.”

Part of this proactive approach is encouraging a positive interaction between students and the school from a young age, and keeping trained resource officers in visible positions in schools.

“it’s a community effort,” he said.

 Zalis said he also hopes to see what he described as “tangible actions,” made by the government to benefit the mental health side of education.

“I’ve been doing this for 33 years and safety is my first priority,”  Zalis said.

As the investigation into the Florida shooting unfolds, more is being learned about the background of the 19-yaer-old who appears to have planned the shooting and may have boosted on Facebook that he intended on becoming a school shooter.
The shooter, identified as Nikolas Cruz, age 19, was described as a volatile teenager “whose strange behavior had caused others to end friendships with him.” A previous friend of Cruz’s, said he noted Cruz’s behavior becoming “progressively getting a little more weird,” according to the Associated Press. This included posting on social media about killing animals.

Cruz was equipped with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and used the fire alarm to force students and teachers into the hallway.  Most of the fatalities occurred inside the building, according to the Associated Press. In addition to the 17 fatalities, dozens more were wounded. The Associated Press said Cruz’s weapon was legally purchased.
As the investigation continues, Cruz has been linked to a white nationalist group.

Sources told the Associated Press that while the shooting was taking place, students hid under desks and barricaded doors, sending texts to their parents saying the loved them, and were scared.

According to authorities, Cruz was taken into custody in a residential  neighborhood approximately a mile away from the school, with multiple magazines of ammunition on his person.

*Editor’s note: Corbin Kottman of the Rolla Daily News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.