In the Wake of Parkland
Schools Look at Safety From Multiple Angles
In the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018, tragedy in Parkland, Fla., Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice made the following remarks at the Feb. 22, 2018, Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
President Sholler-Barber, members of the board of education, members of the community, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you at this moment, though it is a sad time in our nation’s history.
In the wake of the profound tragedy in Florida, I appreciate the board’s approval of a resolution of support of a series of efforts that Congress and the Michigan State Legislature can undertake to make us safer in schools. School districts across the state have had to cut significantly over the last 15 years.
The School Finance Research Collaborative study, the state’s first comprehensive school finance
schools throughout the state. Lieutenant Governor Calley’s own study shows that special education alone is underfunded by $700 million statewide. We need more money in Michigan schools for a wide range of supports — psychologists, social workers, counselors, therapists, nurses, and behavior specialists, not to mention teachers, support staff, and administrators. We also need to prohibit guns in schools across the country. Our board of education had the foresight to prohibit them in our district a year ago. It’s time for a national ban.
I wanted to share a few thoughts on some of the actions that we have taken inside and outside the district in the last few days. ese thoughts are not exhaustive but illustrate in a small way what we are working to accomplish given this most recent national tragedy.
I am proud of our students at Kalamazoo Central who began a petition to help make communities safer across the country. I met with some of them on Monday and appreciate their advocacy. I am also proud of our students at Loy Norrix, Hillside, and Maple Street, who yesterday held peaceful walk- outs in support of the students in Parkland.
We have met or spoken with local law enforcement officials daily. Yesterday, I met with members of law enforcement community: Kalamazoo County Sheriff Rick Fuller, Kalamazoo Township Police Chief Bryan Ergang, members of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, and our chief of security, Don Webster. We discussed our current work and efforts underway to tighten security in a variety of ways in our schools. We continue to review building security plans and protocols.
We have begun planning for a range of additional safety measures. Some of these would be funded in our school bond, on the ballot on May 8. These measures would help make physical changes to the schools that would continue efforts of the past several years to improve the physical security in our schools. Other efforts are associated with staff and student training — some underway and in the process of expansion, some in the planning stages — including trauma-informed care, restorative justice practices, and active shooter drills. We currently do lockdown, tornado, and fire drills during the school year. Thirty-six staff and community members just completed a three-month trauma-informed care professional development. More will be receiving this professional development in the future. Several staff members are receiving restorative practices training in the next two weeks. More will receive training in the future. Both of these efforts build on earlier efforts of the district, in partnership with community organizations.
We have continued our lobbying efforts in a number of areas. On Tuesday, I met with Congressman Fred Upton, several law enforcement officials, and a few superintendents to urge what our board of education just passed in its resolution: more community mental health funding for our children and families in our communities, more school mental health funding for our children and staff in our schools, a background check system that prohibits those with significant criminal or mental health issues from owning guns, a ban on guns in schools, and a review of current gun laws. We have made and will continue to make efforts at the state level as well. The reality is that we need assistance and leadership from both Washington and Lansing.
In recent years, we have added more than 1,000 security cameras in schools and buses. We have added buzzer/intercom/camera systems at the entrances to virtually all of our schools. We have changed a number of our entrances to make them more secure. We have added security staff and returned a school resource officer to Kalamazoo Central, in addition to the school resource officer at Loy Norrix. We have trained staff members— individuals and in some cases whole staffs — in positive behavior supports, Capturing Kids’ Hearts, trauma-informed care, and adaptive schools training. We have partnered with Communities In Schools, Gryphon Place, Kalamazoo County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the YMCA, the YWCA, and many other community partners. This year, with grant funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, in partnership with Communities In Schools and Family and Children Services, we are incorporating a mental health practitioner at each of five elementary schools, to be expanded next year.
We continue to encourage and appreciate staff, students, and families reporting incidents and issues of concern to the proper authorities. It is particularly critical for our students to know that if they “see something,” they should “say something.” Please help us reinforce this message with our children.
We are under NO illusions: not a single one of these measures is a complete preventative, not a single one a cure-all. But each of these measures makes us a stronger community, a safer community, in support of our students and staff. We have made significant strides in the last several years, and expect to make many others in partnership and collaboration in the coming weeks, months, and years.
The board and community’s support and partnership are critical as we address this challenging moment in our nation’s history. Thank you.