Warren mayor organizes education security summit

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Warren – Mayor James Fouts has invited leaders from Warren’s public school districts and private schools, including colleges, to attend a March 1 roundtable on school security.

Fouts said he hopes the meeting, to be held at city hall, will be the first of several meetings in which educators and first responders will discuss the best ways to head off potential tragedies, such as the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 individuals, and how to deal with active shooter situations.

More than 15,000 students are enrolled at 65 public schools, private schools, and four college campuses scattered across Warren; it’s Michigan’s third-most populated city. At least a half-dozen districts have indicated they plan to attend the 2 p.m. meeting.

“I see this as an opportunity to head-off trouble,” Fouts said. “You can never be too prepared and it’s always better to be ready than be scared.”

Fouts recently hosted a similar program for religious leaders in the city, which so far has been spared any tragedies in schools or houses of worship.

Fouts said while school shootings have grabbed the public attention, he wants officials to huddle bests ways to respond to various emergency situations, including fires and natural disasters.

“Do first responders know where all the emergency exits are? Do we have updated floor plans of all the schools?” he asked. “This is important information that needs to be passed along.”

Other school systems in Michigan and elsewhere have, following school tragedies, stepped up similar discussions and security and what to do in the event of an active shooter. President Donald Trump has floated the idea of arming teachers with weapons.

Fouts, who taught high school students for 30 years in both Sterling Heights and Warren, was teaching in one of the schools in April 1999 when the Columbine High School shooting tragedy occurred in Colorado. He said as news broke of student deaths and injuries, teachers and other school officials elsewhere were suddenly thrust into situations that required a calm and professional response to ensure the peace of mind and safety of students.

“Everyone was on edge,” he said. “We didn’t have an actual incident, but our school was put on lockdown for some reason.

“I’m not comfortable with arming teachers – they are there to teach, “ Fouts said. “I think that presents other problems, including a tremendous liability.”

Warren Police Chief William Dwyer argues that because of the growing number of threats and shootings, schools everywhere need to shore up their security measures. He said his officers have been working with houses of worship in the city on how to best handle active shooter situations.

“We tell them to run, hide if possible and as a last resort, fight,” he said.

Dwyer headed up a fact-finding group on gun violence as an Oakland County commissioner following the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut. He noted in recent years it has become increasingly routine to encounter metal detectors and armed guards at court buildings and airports, but not in schools.

“In our schools, where students are most vulnerable, there is no such protection,” Dwyer said. “I believe in the next 20 years every school is going to have metal detectors to keep out weapons, and armed guards to check out backpacks and protect students. And I expect there will be one entrance in and one exit out of schools. All others locked during the school day.

“We have to fortify our schools,” said Dwyer, who will participate in the roundtable. “We need the schools, teachers, students, and their families all involved in this issue as well.”

Warren has five resource officers assigned to five high schools in the city, Dwyer said, but more are needed.

“They are extremely important, have helped to defuse potentially violent situations and have become part of the school family, trusted by students,” he said.

On Thursday two students – one 8 years old, the other 14 – were found to have brought pellet guns inside back packs into different Warren schools. Police learned of the weapons after other students reported seeing them to school officials.

Many communities, including Warren, are encouraging student, families and faculty to report anything potentially dangerous or unusual they encounter, including on social media, he said.

Dwyer said he is disturbed that Florida federal and local authorities knew of the shooter’s violent tendencies but failed to act as well as an armed school resource officer who made no attempt to go inside the school during the Parkland incident and has since resigned.

“These are regrettable but we should try and learn from mistakes and not repeat them,” Dwyer said. “There are no easy answers to the difficult question of gun violence, especially involving schools.

“But you aren’t going to eliminate it by banning AR-15s,” he said. “If someone is intent on killing or hurting someone, they will find a way to do it. Maybe they will use another gun or weapon. Or even a car or truck.”