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After Sandy Hook: Reevaluating School Security Measures in Southeast Michigan

The horrific elementary school in Newtown, Conn. has put kids' safety and security measures top of mind. How are southeast Michigan schools reacting?

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On top of the existing emergency plans and security measures, Neff has done "different things at different sites," she says, because each building has a different layout.

That's exactly the approach schools should take when creating their emergency plans, says Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.

"There are recommendations," but it also "depends on individual circumstances," Bouchard explains, noting that emergency plans have to be "tailored" to each place. Security plans depend on everything from the age and physical capability of the children to the location of the classroom.

"What we try to do is give a variety of suggestions," he says. "It's not a one size fits all."

Bouchard says that following the Connecticut shooting, "A lot of people called and said they wanted to learn more about what they could do in their own school buildings and in their own situations" – and he says that's the right move.

"Anytime things change," he says, "everyone should reexamine their situation vis-a-vis what just transpired."

Bouchard's office, along with the Oakland County Homeland Security Division, is working in county schools to train teachers and staff on how to respond if an active shooter enters the building. Bouchard also gives presentations to schools on reacting in these situations and what to do when law enforcement arrives.

"We are always looking for ways to pass on info about safety issues to the schools and to the community in general," he says, adding that before the Connecticut shooting, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office had a video and active-shooter pamphlet on its website.

Chippewa Valley Schools in Macomb County also evaluated its security measures. Now, it locks main doors and has monitors checking identification when people enter the school, says Diane Blain, CVS director of school and community relations.

"We had a lot of things in place already. For us, it didn't mean big changes," she says, adding that CVS has numerous security cameras monitoring the schools. "What we're continuing now is talking about a way we could improve school security."

Detroit Public Schools also let the parents of their students know what security measures they had in place. Jennifer Mrozowski, executive director of DPS communications, says the schools' police department has worked with all 100 schools in the district to "review and refine their individual safety plans."

She says DPS officers partake in active shooter training with the Detroit Police Department and Wayne State University Police Department.

Making kids feel secure

Aside from assessing the physical security of the school, some schools also are concerned about the students' sense of safety while at school. CVS and Dearborn Heights Montessori sent out emails to parents on how to deal with the tragedy at home, and DPS offered counseling services after the shooting.

"(We're) worrying a lot about how the parents and the children are feeling. Their sense of personal security is really what's important," Neff says of her schools.

Sue Fitzpatrick, parent educator and community outreach coordinator at Dearborn Heights Montessori Center, teaches a "peace curriculum." She says the "internal structures" – aside from the "external structures" – are extremely important when it comes to school security.

"(Students) need to know that there are outlets for them," she says, so that they feel comfortable talking about their feelings.

Neff says that securing the school from intruders is "one thing," but making sure students aren't afraid of the people in their everyday environment is "more a part of a child's day every day," she notes.

"You go into a 'fight-or-flight' mode," she says of being scared, "where learning, taking in new info, thinking, those functions are obliterated … by adrenaline."

In an email sent to parents titled "Tips for parents on talking with your child," CVS Superintendent Ron Roberts listed suggestions from Chippewa Valley Schools' District Crisis Coordinating Team on making kids feel safe at school.

"In the aftermath of this tragedy, children of all ages need reassurance that their school is safe," the email read. Ideas included saying, "Your school is safe. You don't need to worry," and, "Your safety is important to everyone in your school."

Battling the problem

By seeing even small changes like a newly installed buzz-in system in a school, Neff says parents understand that schools are "seriously paying attention to who enters our building" – and in turn they feel their kids are safer.

"It's made us all think and reevaluate and make changes. There's no doubt about that," Neff says. "It's a wake-up call."

Yet Sandy Hook Elementary had locked doors and security, too, all of which were "not able to keep out somebody with military-style gun(s)," Neff says.
"You're never going to be able to stop the maniac," she says, explaining you can't do anything other than keeping your kid home to fully protect them. "I think parents are realistic about that."

But, Neff adds, the Connecticut shooting "is such a huge exception to the rule of what really happens in school.

"Gunmen coming into schools make national news for a reason," she says. "It's so different, it's so terrible – but it's also rare."

Ultimately, schools are taking the time to make sure their students are safe and looking at "ways to do a good job even better," Blain of CVS says.

"We know if there's somebody who is very determined to cause that kind of harm, they will find a way to do it," she says, referencing Sandy Hook. Nonetheless, "We need to do everything we can to help prevent it."

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