Local schools address safety for school year
By Lisa Brody
In the aftermath of numerous school shootings, including at Oxford High School, local school districts have instituted more proactive measures to keep students safe.
In Bloomfield Hills Schools (BHS), superintendent Pat Watson announced, “Please know that we take a proactive approach to safety and it is a priority for this and every school year. Our goal is to create as safe an environment as possible with intentional layers of support for our students and staff.”
In keeping with that, the district hired an administrator of public safety, Patrick Sidge, who is a retired police sergeant with an extensive law enforcement background and as a school liaison officer. Sidge is working in collaboration with district and school administration to review and establish appropriate guidelines, procedures, and plans to ensure safe and secure schools.
“Among other responsibilities, Mr. Sidge will regularly review and update the district’s Emergency Operations Plans (EOP), work with our technology team to manage security camera systems, and serve as the district’s liaison to work collaboratively with local law enforcement partners,” Watson said in an email. He said Sidge has extensive training which includes working as a school liaison officer, non-violent crisis intervention, safe schools, and FEMA preparedness for educational facilities. He also has training with ALICE, an active shooter training solution and preparedness education program which is utilized by many school districts, including both BHS and Birmingham Public Schools. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
This year, BHS will have two school resource officers, Marisa Miller and Kelly Mcgraw. “Our SROs work collaboratively with local police departments, staff and administration. Officers Miller and McGraw routinely visit our schools and outdoor properties. They are particularly active in school functions engaging both staff and students. It is through these interactions that meaningful and proactive relationships are established,” Watson said.
He said there are also social workers in all schools, with two programs, Mental Health First Aid and SafeTalk, introduced to school staff members to share potential warning signs of a student in emotional distress and provide ways to provide additional support or immediate intervention. “We are also continuing with the PrepareU mental health program in all grade 9 health classes,” he said.
A therapy dog will continue to be dedicated to each school.
The district has also updated their discipline process for administrators and support for students in adverse circumstances.
“Adhering to well-established and robust district protocols, our administrative team, in partnership with other well-trained staff such as social workers, child psychologists, and local law enforcement, BHS proactively utilizes behavioral threat assessments, conducts searches, wellness visits to a family’s home and partners with clinical mental health providers to help ensure the safety of our schools. The discipline process adheres to all BHS Uniform Student Code of Conduct, Board of Education Bylaws, BHS Administrative Regulations, and local, state, and federal requirements,” Watson said. “All school administrators utilize these robust protocols for investigations, student discipline, threat assessments and Title IX investigations to ensure student safety. District administrators underwent an extensive full day of Title IX training with lawyers from Thrun Law and reviewed and updated all our Title IX policies and procedures.”
Birmingham Public Schools also emphasized that “ensuring a safe learning community is of utmost importance within the Birmingham Public Schools. Ongoing reviews of our standing procedures and facilities through the lens of our evolving environment inform our continuous improvement.”
Immediate concerns were addressed through new secure entry vestibules at each school; over 1,000 new "smart cameras" with 24-hour video surveillance covering the interior and exterior of their buildings; a new emergency communication system for local municipal police that improves response time and provides first responders with relevant information; investment in safety improvements and focus on procedures with local law enforcement has led us to partner with the ALICE Training Institute.