Michigan governor calls for upgrading security at schools
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan would spend $20 million to upgrade security at up to 400 schools, expand a tip line that lets students report threats and require schools to incorporate behavioral health assessments into their procedures under a plan Gov. Rick Snyder outlined on Monday.
The proposal was developed in the wake of the shooting massacre at a Florida high school in February and at a time the state has received record-high tips to OK2SAY, Michigan’s confidential tip line for students.
“This is a terrible national crisis. We’ve done good things, but let’s do more,” Snyder told The Associated Press in an interview before releasing the plan, which does not include gun-related measures. He said he continues to study “red flag” legislation, which would allow courts to order the temporary seizure of guns from people showing signs of mental distress or violence. That legislation has not been embraced by his fellow Republicans in the GOP-led Legislature.
“What I wanted to do to start this, though, was not make it about guns but to make it about the schools and school safety and how to protect our students and people working in the schools,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of good things we can just start now or reinforce now that are already out there.”
Snyder called for $20 million in grants to harden school buildings with improved locks and communication systems. That would follow $2 million the state allocated in 2017 and $4.5 million spent in 2015 — grants that helped fund security improvements at more than 100 schools.
He proposed tripling the budget of the “very successful” OK2SAY program to $1.3 million, both to increase student awareness and to hire more analysts to receive and process tips that are forwarded to schools officials and law enforcement. State Attorney General Bill Schuette said last week that his initiative received 980 tips in March, topping the previous record — set in February — by more than 300. More than half of the tips were related to bullying, suicide and school attack concerns.
Snyder also called for mandatory auditing of school safety plans, requiring that the plans cover more than emergency response and for a $2 million pilot grant program to train teams of school administrators, school-based police officers and others to help identify students who pose a threat to themselves and others. Both the FBI and Secret Service recommend that every school have such a behavioral assessment team, according Snyder’s plan.
Though his proposed $20 million for security enhancements would align with what law enforcement and education leaders have suggested, Snyder did not embrace their call to spend an additional $100 million to add resource officers and counselors to understaffed schools. Senate Democrats last week proposed spending $50 million on security and $50 million hiring more counselors, social workers and resource officers — armed local police and sheriff’s deputies embedded in school districts.
Of the $20 million for security, $2 million would be spent in the current fiscal year and the remaining $18 million would be included in the 2018-19 budget under consideration by legislators.
“The governor’s immediate commitment to school safety amounts to $2 million and a work group to study the issue. We can do better than that,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich of Flint. “I encourage the governor to take a serious look at our plan to make Michigan schools safer.”
The state chapter of gun-control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said Snyder’s decision to not include a red flag bill in his proposal was a “missed opportunity” and “truly disappointing” because such a measure would keep guns out of the hands of people who have displayed clear warning signs.
Snyder said he is creating a task force to propose recommendations on a rolling basis this year. But until the state gets a handle on schools’ security needs, he wants to wait to commit to higher funding levels. He also proposed standardized training for school resource officers, which is in place in 29 other states.
In crafting his proposal, Snyder held impromptu “listening sessions” with students at Saline High School near Ann Arbor and Detroit Edison Public School Academy. The students, he said, gave positive feedback about OK2Say — which accepts tips by text message, phone, email, a website and a mobile app — but not all of them knew about the program. He wants to boost exposure.
“When I talk to students, they recognize they’re the people most likely to see the (warning) signs,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Schuette, who launched OK2Say in 2014, welcomed the new support and asked lawmakers to permanently fund the program so “Michigan kids have access ... for as long as they need it.”