The following commentary by MASA President Michele Lemire and Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth appeared in the Lansing State Journal on May, 23, 2018.
Great Mills, Maryland. Parkland, Florida. Newtown, Connecticut. Places you probably never heard of until tragedy struck and claimed the lives of innocent children.
The school violence crisis has threatened to touch us here at home in Michigan too. Already this year we’ve seen bomb or shooting threats in districts across our state. The Educator’s School Safety Network, a national nonprofit school safety organization reports that Michigan schools have faced 41 threats of violence — since just the middle of February. That’s the fifth-highest total in the United States.
Enough is enough. Let’s have our arguments, but where there’s common ground — and there is plenty — let’s stand together and make a difference.
Michigan’s law enforcement community, school leaders and school mental health professionals are doing just that. We’ve formed an unprecedented coalition to support specific, achievable, life-saving reforms. We’re asking parents and students to stand with us, and for the legislature to get on board.
Here’s our plan: We’re asking legislators to invest $120 million in student safety, to help our schools achieve four key initiatives; put more school resource officers (SROs) — sheriffs and police — in our school buildings, to equip our schools with better access to school mental health professionals, to make our school buildings safer and harder to attack, and to embrace a few legal changes that will make threat reporting more common.
We call it the Michigan School Safety Reform Plan, and we’re convinced it’ll save lives. That work starts with our first responders. Just this month in Maryland, a school shooter was stopped by a school resource officer, who put his own life on the line, and saved the lives of countless kids. Michigan schools deserve greater access to that same lifesaving resource, and we’re asking Lansing to give it to them.
SROs are able to respond immediately to threats and violence in the buildings where they work, but that’s only a small part of their job, and one we pray they’ll never have to perform. Every other day, SROs are in the halls and in the classrooms, getting to know students and their families and helping prevent tragedies before they ever happen. Hundreds of Michigan schools already have SROs, and know firsthand how effective and important they are.
Of course, SROs aren’t the only ones on the front lines of this effort. School mental health professionals are unsung heroes. Tragedy after tragedy has shown that school shooters typically show signs of trouble long before an attack. Unfortunately, funding challenges have resulted in far too few mental health professionals in place to help. Placing additional school mental health professionals in our schools is a critical step in identifying and helping troubled students before it’s too late.
The Plan also calls for law enforcement to walk through every school building in the state to identify safety and security concerns, and sets up a small grant program to help schools make attacks harder to carry out, and students safer should, God forbid, an emergency occur.
We also know that reporting threats can stop tragedies before they happen. We are asking Lansing to institute mandatory reporting of threats against schools and students, and to implement a new, graduated penalty range for those who make threats, to make reporting more likely and effective.
Just this month, the state’s Treasury Department identified more than $300 million in additional revenue for 2018. The money is there. There’s been enough talking on cable TV. Our kids’ lives are on the line. It’s time for change.
Scott Wriggelsworth is the sheriff for Ingham County. Michele Lemire is the president of the Michigan Association of School Administrators.