No one wants to think that it could happen at their child’s school, but if there’s anything our community can take from the recent violence in Oxford, it’s that violence can, unfortunately, happen anywhere.
However, the schools in Macomb County are proactive at working to keep their buildings as safe as possible, and there are some things that you and your children can watch out for to prevent violence before it starts, too.
Here, two Macomb County experts — Nancy Buyle, the school safety and student assistance consultant with Macomb Intermediate School District, and Brandon Lewis, the director of Macomb’s Emergency Management and Communications office — weigh in on school safety and spotting potential threats.
Safety in Macomb Schools
While there are no fool-proof ways to keep schools 100% safe from all potential dangers, MISD, the 21 school districts and county officials have been working together for more than 20 years to ensure that Macomb schools are safe by providing advice and protocols on a wide variety of school safety issues.
“In 2018, we hired three school safety coordinators using funding from a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to assist Macomb County schools with safety planning,” Lewis explains. “Among the initiatives supported by our school safety section is the development of a standardized risk and vulnerability assessments, which are based on nationally-accepted best practices.”
Under Michigan law PA 436, all schools are required to have active violence protocols in place, though legislation does not specify which programs a school should adapt. Thanks to these laws and the school safety coordinators in Macomb County, all schools in Macomb have safety protocols in place.
“About 60% of districts in Macomb County have adopted Run, Hide, Fight as their active violence protocol, while another 40% have adopted a commercially-developed program such as ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate),” Lewis adds. “The county and the MISD’s school safety committee, which represents all the districts in the county, do not recommend one program over another, as long as the adopted program is consistent with accepted best practices.”
In addition to assisting the implementation of these protocols, school and county officials work together to develop training exercises in case of an active shooter and have increased collaboration between schools and first responders to ensure quick response to emergency situations.
Some school districts have even entered into agreements to integrate their internal camera systems into the county’s Communications and Technology Center (COMTEC), which allows responders to view school camera feeds live during emergency response operations.
What you can do to prevent school violence
According to a recent study conducted by the Secret Service, there is no “profile” of someone who may perpetrate targeted school violence.
In general, these studies indicate that the majority of students who plan targeted school violence experience significant stressors and may have mental health conditions, but that in no way means that everyone with mental health conditions poses a threat.
In fact, the same studies report that a vast majority of people with mental health conditions have no violent tendencies at all, and 94% of people who seriously plan a targeted attack on a school communicated their plans in some way.
“We have learned from the Secret Service that individuals that plot violence against a school, talk about it in some way. They journal about it or post it to social media and about 19% warned their friends prior to the event happening, so we need to be paying attention to actual behaviors that happen,” Buyle says.
With that in mind, the biggest thing that students, staff and parents can do to prevent targeted school violence is to watch out for such communications and report them.
“Violent threats of any type are to be reported immediately to local law enforcement,” Lewis says. Any reports made to Macomb County schools that are credible are immediately reported to law enforcement for investigation.
You can report such communications directly or through the anonymous OK2SAY tip line, which is open 24/7 via phone, text, email or mobile app.
Coping with school violence
Parents in Macomb County should note that all of the county’s schools actively work to teach their students what to do in the event of a violent incident.
Kids who are in a school during a violent event should follow the instructions given by school staff or rely on the training they have received through their school’s protocols.
If, as a parent, you find yourself facing the news of an incident of violence in your child’s school, both Buyle and Lewis say that it’s important that you stay away from the school. You won’t be able to get close enough to retrieve your child and you could interfere with first responders, including ambulances, that need to get to the school.
“Macomb County has plans in place to support local law enforcement and first responders with resources and logistical support in the event of an active violence incident, such as procuring tactical resources, providing situational awareness, and assisting with recovery operations,” Lewis says.
And that means parents need to wait to hear from law enforcement on what to do next.
“Recognize you’re going to be in shock and horror. Then, listen to the guidance of first responders or media that interacts directly with first responders,” Buyle adds. “I say ‘media that interacts directlywith first responders’ because if a media outlet has been in contact with law enforcement, they are getting out the information that parents need to hear.”
As you wait, surround yourself with people who aren’t directly impacted by the incidence of violence and listen to communications from law enforcement on when and where reunification will happen.
And after you are reunited with your child, Buyle says that it’s imperative that you find your child a professional that can help them work through their trauma. This should be a mental health professional that has special critical incident, crisis intervention or trauma expertise.
“If a child survives this type of event, they will need more support whether they are showing signs or not,” she says. “Some people may go numb and some people may shut down. All reactions to this type of event are completely normal and they need to see someone who is trauma trained and has critical incident stress management training.”
In Macomb County, parents can seek out mental health support for themselves and their kids through their local school district, Macomb County Community Mental Health or the Macomb County Crisis Center.
Kids can even receive in-home support through the Macomb County Children’s Mobile Unit.
For more information on Macomb County, visit Make Macomb Your Home.