Expert, educators reflect on school safety | #schoolsaftey

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Two years ago, a 15-year-old student a walked into Oxford High School and open fire – killing four classmates and wounding seven others. Thursday’s anniversary was marked by communal grieving.

The communal gatherings to grieve and remember were held around the state, including on the campus of Michigan State University. Campus landmark ‘The Rock’ was painted in memoriam for Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Julianna and Justin Shilling. The four students’ names painted in colorful hues, glistened in the sunlight

The Rock at MSU painted in honor and remembrance of the four Oxford High School students killed Nov. 20, 2021. (WLNS)

While the wounds from that day are still fresh for many, school security expert Jason Russell tells 6 News, horrific acts of school violence can happen anywhere.

“Schools need to prepare, take relevant steps to try and prepare to not only prevent an incident from happening,” he said.  “But also, should it happen, we need to know how to respond. We can’t have our head in the sand and say well those types of things in other places.”

The school security expert had a law enforcement career that began at the Lansing Police Department and grew to a full service in the U.S. Secret Service. He graduated from MSU and now runs a security consulting firm.

Russell worked alongside administrators at Oxford in the aftermath of the shooting. He says since then, a change happened within the state and the country to rethink school violence and how to handle it. 

“I think prior to some of the most recent incidents, our focus was very much on, “hey, we need to just be really good at responding.” he said.

The focus has shifted to one that is also including prevention into fold.

“How can we get this kid off the path to violence? Right? So, how can we impact their lives in a positive sort of way?” Russell added, “What can we do to prevent them from ever wanting to be violent in the first place? And I think the most meaningful thing that has happened since Oxford is that focus on prevention as opposed to just response.” 

East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko. (WLNS)

Just over 80 miles from Oxford, East Lansing Public Schools have rolled out several major safety policy changes in the last year. 

Superintendent Dori Leyko says many of them are not isolated specifically to Oxford. 

Work started near the end of 2022 when consultants were brought in to do a building assessment. 

That work went well into the first half of this year as administrators took input from students, staff and parents. Both in-person and from surveys. She says sifting through the ideas was delicate work. 

“We have to find a way to land somewhere where we are feeling that our kids and our schools are safe yet are still very welcoming to our community and really meets the needs of our community,” she said. 

Some of the changes that came out of discussions include limiting which doors were used by students at the start of the day and which ones were left open during the school day. 

At the front door of the high school, a security guard now greets visitors.

East Lansing Public Schools Director Office of Health and Safety Matt Morales. (WLNS)

The district invested this summer in the creation of the Office of Health and Safety with Matt Morales at the helm. He says the office is staffed with a behavior specialist and mental health coordinator.  Morales explains staff use a process called the Behavior Threat Assessment and Management Tool.

“It’s a very formalized approach, so that we’re not putting our building administrators on an island,” he said.

Morales says the process starts off when a concern pops up at one of the district’s schools. Six trainers in the system are notified and make a team to review the situation and find out the root cause. 

“It’s not where I think probably past practice in many districts would be that an administrator at the building level was really tasked with making an independent decision. We instead have again that multidisciplinary approach but really leaning into a lot of different district leaders and building leaders strengths,” says Morales. 

Superintendent Leyko says critical response training has been completed at both elementary and secondary schools this year. But more work is ahead. Leyko says plans are on the table for a safety, security and accessibility bond to be on the May 2024 ballot. She says the around $23 million dollar bond would be used for a secure entrance at the high school as well as move the central administration offices to a new location. 

Leyko says there are several key parts reimagining the mission for school safety: reporting concerns, copartner ship between the district and families and collaborating on that work. 

“Our focus here in our district while you have to be prepared for these emergencies and be ready to be responsive,” Leyko says, “it’s really about being proactive.” 

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