When it comes to contemplating the horror of a mass school shooting, the time is long past when reasonable people can tell themselves, "It won't happen here."
Last month's atrocity in Newtown, Conn., which claimed 28 lives, removed what little innocence remained about the possibility of fatal violence in the nation's schools and colleges.
In addition, according to news reports and various websites, there have been more than 150 school shooting incidents — most of them suicides or assaults involving one or two people — since Colorado's Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
The worst gun-related episode, of course, took place at Virginia Tech in April 2007, when a deranged college student killed 32 people before turning one of his weapons on himself.
However, the deadliest school attack ever perpetrated in this country happened nearly 90 years ago. In the so-called Bath School Disaster, Andrew Kehoe killed 38 children and six adults by setting off a bomb inside the Bath (Mich.) Consolidated School on May 18, 1927. The 55-year-old school board treasurer was angry after losing an election bid to become township clerk.
So with decades of historical precedent to consider, R-II Superintendent Larry Linthacum readily acknowledges that a school atrocity in relatively peaceful Maryville is a real possibility, an unspeakable event that he nevertheless speaks about and plans for continually.
Unlike some big-city districts that formed their own police departments and armed officers with high-powered rifles, security at R-II doesn't necessarily get in your face. But it's there.
During school hours, only the front door remains unlocked at each of the district's four schools, and all visitors are required to sign in and wear an identifying tag around their necks. Teachers, custodians and other staffers have been instructed to report anyone walking the halls without proper identification.
In addition, all classrooms have lockable doors, and students and teachers receive detailed instructions about how and where to take shelter during a "live shooter" scenario. The district has also implemented a phone texting system to facilitate instant communication with students and parents during an emergency.
"Our first priority is to have a safe school environment," Linthacum said.
"If the kids don't feel safe they're not going to learn even if they have the best teacher in the world."
When the Newtown shootings occurred, the Maryville district had just completed a comprehensive review of its crisis plan. Nevertheless, Linthacum called the mass killing "a reminder to all of us" that has led to "heightened awareness" on the part of R-II faculty and administrators.
However, Linthacum still believes security should not necessarily come at the expense of a certain amount of public access.
"This is a partnership with the community, so we're not locking all the doors," he said. "We want the public to feel free to visit our schools. But that could change. It's something we're evaluating at this time."
Page 2 of 2 - For several years, the most visible evidence of tightened security at R-II has been the existence of a "school resource officer."
Maryville Public Safety Officer Josh McMillan, who is paid jointly by the city and the district, is tasked with keeping students safe at all four R-II campuses, including the ACES alternative school.
McMillan carries a standard-issue police handgun and wears a bullet-proof vest while on duty. He also has ready access to heavier weaponry should it be required.
"I feel comfortable with what I have," McMillan said of the firepower available with which to confront an armed assailant. "And in that kind of situation (additional officers) are going to be here very, very fast. We would have a very quick response."
Despite the Newtown shootings, McMillan said he hasn't made any major adjustments with regard to how he goes about his job.
"You do have heightened awareness," he said. "It comes up in your mind more often. But 90 percent of the time you're thinking about the safety of the kids anyway."
By all accounts, including Linthacum's, McMillan is dedicated, thorough and well-trained. Still, with four schools to patrol, is one officer enough?
"You ask yourself, 'Can we afford it?'" Linthacum said. "But then you ask, 'How much is it worth to ensure the safety of out students?' So that's a fair question. If money wasn't an issue, would I have an SRO in each building? Absolutely."