So far, politics takes break in school safety talks

The Detroit News

Since the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a flurry of school safety plans have been presented to the Michigan Legislature. Despite political division over related issues, notably gun control, lawmakers are admirably working across party lines to adopt legislation to make schools safer.

Michigan has consistently been in the top five states in terms of the number of school threats since the Parkland shooting. And while there have been no major incidents, the disturbingly high threat activity has brought lawmakers to the reality that funding school security can't be shoved aside any longer.

The Capitol building in Lansing.

Last week, the Senate passed a package of seven bills addressing various areas of school safety. Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, sponsored a bill that would require school administrators to contact law enforcement officers for inspection of new school buildings or renovations. O’Brien says she responded to complaints from police that they typically don't see a school building until the ribbon cutting, and aren't asked for input about making the new structures safer. She then worked with Democratic Sen. Jim Ananich, the chamber's minority leader, on a related proposal.

"We each realized we had a piece of the puzzle," she says.

Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, introduced a bill mandating school districts assemble an emergency operations plan for every school. The plans would address emergency protocol and possible vulnerabilities in school security.

The recent budget passed by legislators will include $25 million toward school safety grants. An additional $30 million will be designated for funding school mental health services.

In another initiative, a coalition of law enforcement officers, school officials and lawmakers unveiled the Michigan School Safety Reform Plan, which seeks both increased funding and better ideas for keeping schools safe.

Matt Resch, whose public relations firm is promoting the plan, says the focus will be on proposals that can win bipartisan support. Backers want the state to fund school resource officers, mental health counselors and added structural safety features. It also increases penalties for individuals who make threats against schools.

Three bills were introduced in the House as part of the plan. Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, (HB 5942) would make threatening violence against schools a more severe crime. Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, (HB 5966) would create a new grant for school resource officers and mental health professionals. Rep. Robert Koslowski, D-Westland, (HB 5967) would require those who are already mandated to report incidents of child abuse to also report suspected threats against schools.

Gov. Rick Snyder created the School Safety Task Force two months ago to research solutions based on input from teachers, mental health counselors and students.

Lawmakers should work with the task force to make sure its recommendations go into law, and not on a shelf.

There are many elements of the school safety debate that will predictably devolve into partisan scraps.

But common sense safety measures should not be among them.

Michigan is off to a good start in stressing bipartisan solutions to making schools safer.