Our Editorial: Take action to keep students safe

The Detroit News

The March for Our Lives on Saturday brought out hundreds of thousands of protesters (many of them young people) advocating for gun control and increased school safety. Protests were held in more than 800 locations, including in Michigan. While those events got significant media attention, another initiative underway in this state has the potential to offer students boosted security without running into political roadblocks.

At least that’s what a broad coalition of law enforcement and school leaders is hoping. It announced its proposal last week, ahead of the marches, and the group is working with lawmakers so that Michigan can take action in fighting school violence. It’s a sound approach.

“School shootings and bomb threats dominate the headlines,” said Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth in a statement. “Violence is followed by mourning, outrage and calls for reform — before the cycle repeats itself, without any meaningful change.”

The coalition wants to end that cycle, and it expects legislation to be introduced in April. It says legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have already shown support.

“There’s been a lot of interest,” says Peter Spadafore, director of government affairs for the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

The Michigan School Safety Reform Plan requests $120 million for new grant programs for personnel and other safety measures, including:

■More resource officers working in schools.

■Additional school mental health professionals to identify problems early.

■Grants to ensure safer school buildings.

■Mandatory reporting of threats and graduated penalties to help prevent violence.

The proposal has the backing of many groups. The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, the Michigan Association of School Administrators, the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Association of School Psychologists, the Michigan Association of School Social Workers, the Michigan School Counselors Association, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan are all on board.

St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon says something all schools can do to improve safety is to have a designated officer, who becomes familiar with the school community and has a better vantage point to identify problems before they happen.

The coalition points to a lack of school counselors, social workers and psychologists as a major problem in schools today. The ratio of students to counselors, for instance, is 750 to 1 and those ratios are even more imbalanced for the other personnel.

“We’ve come up with something tangible that can be done at a reasonable and achievable cost to make communities safer,” says Mark Reene, Tuscola County prosecutor and past president of the state Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

A similar discussion is taking place nationally. On Wednesday, the White House commission on school safety, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, held its first official meeting behind closed doors. DeVos met with the three other cabinet secretaries on the commission, who will be responsible for making recommendations on improving school safety. The commission has plans to meet with law enforcement, school counselors, parents and teachers.

Change on the federal level is more elusive, however, so it’s smart for state lawmakers to look at what they can do to ensure students are safe at school. And this plan from leaders directly involved offers a solid blueprint.