The Okemos board of education voted to lock all the doors on the district’s public schools. The room was packed March 26 with parents concerned for their children’s safety. The idea of putting locks and buzzers on the doors was initially thought of in the fall, however it became more urgent by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and more recent bomb threats at Okemos High School and Nexus Academy.
The bomb threats sent administration and parents into a spiral for student safety. Parents were asked to fill out blue cards if they wanted to speak about a concern or topic at the meeting. The open discussion lasted for more than an hour and parents were not holding back their strong emotions.
“This weekend young people from across the country who have been directly affected by gun violence called on all of us to stop sitting on our hands and pressure our elected leaders to adopt comprehensive gun control measures,” said Hedlun Walton, father of three children who attend Okemos schools. He is an Okemos High School counselor. “They did not ask us for locked doors, or added police officers or to arm teachers. Generation Z wants gun control and rightly so. Because even with locked doors, or a buzzer system, or an armed office around site, the threat does not go away.”
Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said, “this recommendation comes after talking with a representative from our Michigan State University police department, the department of homeland security and the Meridian Township police department.”
She said she got the same response from all parties. That was that a short-term way to ensure safety of the schools is to lock the doors and install a camera system.
Trustee Vincent Lyon-Callo said more people need to be more involved in the discussion. He wanted to hear students’ thoughts on the new safety policies before they are implemented. He said, “to move forward, I would hope you would get more experts involved than just police.” Lyon-Callo cited many facts about school shootings and said, “almost every case has been students bringing a gun to school and targeting someone they have a problem with.”
Trustee Melanie Lynn said, “we are not providing the kind of environment that we are expected to provide for those who are in our premises.” She said she was for the recommendation because she feels that the school board is not doing what it can to keep people in the schools safe.
A major argument throughout the meeting was whether the discussion was about guns. Superintendent Zachery-Ross said, “this step is inclusive to more events than just gun prevention.”
Many parents testified that the buzzer and lock system is not about guns. It’s to ensure that random people are not able to open a school door and roam the halls. One parent said she walked into her child’s elementary school and was not greeted by a secretary because there wasn’t one in the office to sign her in.
Trustee Sarah Wohlford said, “this is 100 percent about guns. We are not sitting here tonight if this country did not tolerate or encourage untethered access to assault weapons.” Wohlford also said installing buzzers and locks won’t prevent what everyone in the room was afraid of.
Dean Bolton, board president, had the last word. He said, “there’s never gonna be a consensus over the degrees or the methods of security that we use here.” Bolton talked about how there isn’t a “perfect fix” but there are layers of safety that the district could implement over time. He said, “this is not about prevention. This is about protection.”
When a concerned mother asked others to stand to see how many parents supported the installation of buzzers and locks, all but a few parents stood. Many said this is the necessary measure to ensure their children’s safety at school, while others opposed the proposition.
The board voted unanimously for the installation of cameras and locks on all doors in the district. The date of the installation is still being considered.