Schools continue to make efforts to keep students safe.

November 30, 2015

scottville elementary alice safetyBy Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

School safety has been a much discussed topic lately. An effort is being led by Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole to raise money to place a door safety device, known as The Boot, in every classroom in Mason County. But, what else are the schools doing to keep students safe? Recently, MCP met with administrators from county primary public schools and also from West Shore Community College to discuss student safety.

All area educational facilities are part of the Mason County School Safety Planning Committee, which also includes representatives from local law enforcement and emergency management. The committee has allowed area schools to provide consistent training and also consistent procedures.

An outcome of the planning committee has been the push for area schools to teach staff and students tactical techniques through a training known as ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate) training, which teaches staff and students to defend themselves during an attack on the school.

County schools have been vigilant in training staff on what to do in case of an active shooter in the building. In the past staff was taught to shut the lights off and huddle all the students in the corner. The ALICE training teaches the room occupants to barricade the room, find an alternate exit, if possible, or fight any way possible.

Sheriff Cole said he has received some comments from residents who are concerned about the trainings. Cole said it is unwise for county residents to think the community is isolated from a mass violence incident.

“If you would have asked me the morning of September 9, 2013 if I ever would have thought a police officer in Mason County would have been shot in the daylight on the side of the road, I would have said no,” Cole said, referring to the death of Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield. “I stood beside my friend and watched him die on Custer Road and after that day realized that we were not isolated to such violence.”

Mason County Central Superintendent Jeff Mount agrees, comparing intruder training to tornado and fire drills. A fire death at a public school has not occurred in the U.S. in over 50 years, Mount said. This is most likely because of fire drills.

Other steps are also being taken to keep students safe.

Only the front doors of MCC and Ludington Area Schools buildings are unlocked, the exception being MCC’s Victory Early Childhood Development Center, which locks all its doors.

Mason County Eastern Public Schools has taken a different approach. The school has gone to a locked-door policy with a closed-circuit camera that allows visitors to be “buzzed” in.

Superintendent Paul Shoup said the procedure works for MCE and was an economical solution to keeping the school safe.

Mount said there is a fine balance between keeping the school a welcome place for the public and keeping kids safe.

“Times have changed and we have been forced to lean more toward the safety side,” Mount said. “I have a hard time with that myself. I want our families to feel welcome.” Mount said most parents tend to understand the schools’ policies and typically voice positive feedback about the extra precautions. 

Ludington Area Schools Superintendent Andrea Large said classroom doors at LAS are also locked. Key personnel are also equipped with two-way radios to allow communications during an emergency.

Keeping students safe at a college tends to be a little more of a challenge when students, staff and other members of the public are coming and going all day long. At an elementary or secondary school, students typically arrive in the morning and don’t leave until the end of the day (except for open campus lunch at the high schools and also students who leave the high schools to attend off-campus classes).

“I see us as being more like a shopping mall rather than like a high school,” said Scott Ward, vice president of administrative services. “We have people coming and going constantly at all hours of the day. It’s like customers going into multiple storefronts.”

This causes the ability to lock-down the school to be nearly impossible.

Ward said WSCC has participated in the ALICE training and has been educating its staff, which isn’t always easy with over 70% of the instructors being part-time employees.

Thom Hawley, director of college relations, said WSCC also takes the approach of early detection. The college has implemented a policy that it calls CARE, Campus Assessment Response Evaluation. The CARE team exists to identify possible threats to the college, Hawley said. Staff members are encouraged to report an individual who displays unusual or threatening behaviors.

Ward said this type of approach has proven to be successful at other colleges and has stopped potential tragic situations from happening.

The college has also implemented a new phone system that allows for campus-wide paging. Each classroom and office has a telephone.

“I am comfortable that we have the best preventative methods,” Ward said.

Large said Ludington schools also is implementing a phone app for staff to utilize that will allow two-way communication during an emergency. “We are excited about having that measure in place,” she said. The app was made available through a grant from Michigan State Police.

Large said Ludington also tries to identify potential safety threats. She said school resource office Tony Kuster of Ludington Police Department is on school grounds two days a week. Kuster also interacts with parents and attends school activities.

“Officer Kuster has really made an effort to build those relationships with the students and their parents,” Large said. “We feel this has been a huge proactive effort to prevent or identify any potential threats to the school.”

At MCC, Scottville Police Department maintains a presence at the school and is in constant communication with school personnel, Mount said. The sheriff’s office maintains a relationship with MCE and other schools that are not within city limits.

“It’s all about buying time,” Sheriff Cole has said about safety protocols. “The Boot is just another one of those devices that will buy extra time for law enforcement to arrive on the scene.”

The Boot fundraising effort continues. Read more about the device here.

Those wishing to donate, may write a check to the Friends of the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, c/o Community Foundation for Mason County, PO Box 10, Ludington, MI 49431. Note in the memo line: Adopt A Door.

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