Michigan school task force prioritizes safety and mental health

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Four months after the deadly shooting at Oxford High School, state lawmakers are reviving a 4 year plan to make schools safer.

The bipartisan Home Schools Safety Task Force set up after the Oxford rampage recently released its first recommendations, with more expected in the coming weeks.

Four Republicans and four Democrats who have met more than a dozen times want the state to commission an independent threat assessment for all schools in Michigan. They suggest that the state provide subsidies to fill the gaps identified by the analysis.

Another priority is to provide public funding to school health centers that address physical and mental health needs.

Mental health has become a priority for policymakers and educators, not just because mental illness is a factor in school violence, but because students need extra support after trauma and isolation. during the pandemic.

The group also wants schools to eliminate immediate threats to classrooms sooner – such as those being considered factors in the Oxford shooting in November which left four dead and seven injured.

Other recommendations include:

  • Ask schools to keep lockout kits on hand. Each kit can include, for example, food, water bladders, radio, flashlight, safety whistle, hand sanitizer and a bucket that doubles as a portable toilet.
  • Improve communication between schools, local law enforcement, and the state’s OK2Say whistleblower line.
  • Added OK2Say contact information on student IDs.
  • Provide incentives for people to become school counselors.
  • Refinement requirements for active fire exercises.
  • Standardization of floor plans for schools.
  • Adopt common definitions across school districts for terms such as “lockdown,” “shelter-in-place,” and “clear room.”
  • Require ongoing safety training for school resource officers and other school personnel.
  • Addition of a staff member in each district to oversee mental health services, security and threat assessment.

Many of the recommendations are based on previous work by a school safety task force created by former Gov. Rick Snyder. This working group evolved into School Safety Commissionwhich is supported by staff from the Michigan State Police Office of School Safety.

“One of my frustrations when we started reviewing the 2018 task force was that someone had already done a lot of work, and why were those recommendations not acted upon?” said State Rep. Scott VanSingel, co-chair of the new legislative task force.

A few of the task force’s recommendations have been implemented, said Nancy Becker Bennett, who oversees the state police Office of School Safety. These include updating the technology of the OK2SAY advice line, better defining the roles of school security personnel and regularly reviewing the administrative rules to allow school personnel to receive credits. professional development for safety courses.

Twenty other recommendations have not been implemented. These are largely in line with the recommendations of the new Legislative Task Force.

VanSingel and task force co-chairman State Representative Luke Meerman said they were confident of making progress under new circumstances.

First, the previous report was published just before the start of the pandemic and the priorities of policy makers have changed. Second, the Oxford shooting created a sense of urgency. Third, the new task force includes the legislators themselves, people with the power to introduce bills and the political capital to get their colleagues to approve them.

“Our recommendations will actually be presented in the form of bills. It’s a big step up from what the 2018 task force was able to do,” said Meerman, a Republican from Coopersville in Ottaway County.

Lawmakers are already drafting bills, and they could be signed into law by July.

The task force plans to release its full report in May. It may include more controversial measures on which, contrary to the initial recommendations, not all members of the working group agree.

Topics of discussion range from arming teachers to whether the courts can confiscate firearms from people deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or others. Most of these topics were raised by members of the public who submitted comments and suggestions.

Most of the time, however, the group has devoted its time to a substantive debate on moderate measures that most people agree on.

“We’ve tried so hard not to politicize this issue, and we’ve worked extremely well together,” said VanSingel, a Republican from Grant in Newaygo County. “We haven’t completely ignored the conversations about [gun control] but that was not the objective of our group. We look at what we can do together. »

Proponents of the task force’s work want to see reforms that will make a difference without overburdening teachers and administrators.

“Schools are overwhelmed with demands on academics, so putting a whole bunch of separate school safety demands on them is a lot, but it’s important, and they know it,” Becker Bennett said.

Task force leaders say their work is grounded in practical solutions to a real problem – one they heard described in startling and disturbing detail in a private meeting with former Oxford superintendent Tim throne.

“As we talked about different topics, we compared them to what had happened. Would it have worked in Oxford? Would it have worked in Parkland? says VanSingel. “We quickly came to the conclusion that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The more layers of security in place, the less of these things are going to happen. »

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Contact her at [email protected]

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