By CATHERINE BYRNE
Capital News Service
LANSING — Hillsdale set an example for schools statewide after a new report showed that four of every 10 Michigan schools either do not have a safety plan or haven’t notified the state of one.
Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus last week called on every school in Michigan to develop, implement and practice an up-to-date safety plan to keep students and teachers safe in the classroom in the wake of Sept. 11 terrorism.
“Having a safety plan isn’t just a good idea for Michigan schools, it’s the law,” Posthumus said.
In July of 1999, following the school shootings at Columbine High School, Gov. John Engler signed a measure to ensure that all schools have a plan in place to deal with emergencies.
According to Chellie Broesamle, Hillsdale High School assistant principal, Hillsdale is constantly updating its safety plans to fit each building’s needs.
“I should hope safety continues to be stressed here and anywhere my children may be, for that matter,” Broesamle said.
Since Sept. 11, Hillsdale High employees take turns greeting people at the door and making sure visitors are signed in, Broesamle said. Also, phones were installed in all classrooms.
According to Hillsdale Superintendent Richard Ames, each building has a safety plan reviewed regularly with the whole staff and with city police officials. Police share information from their own studies and revise the plan.
“We’re constantly looking at our safety plan,” Ames said, “and it wouldn’t work without the cooperation of the city and its officials.”
Sen. Philip Hoffman, R-Horton, a former deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, says the state needs to enforce the nearly 3-year-old law for the protection of Michigan schools.
“The state should insist that schools report their safety plans to ensure they’re complying with law,” Hoffman said. “Also, schools need to report to the state to make sure they receive full funding for their programs.”
T.J. Bucholz, public information officer for the state Office of Safe Schools, contends the statistics released by the state are “blown out of proportion.” According to Bucholz, the districts they deal with all have safety plans and are encouraged to keep them up to date, despite the state’s dismal report.
“The best safety plan in the world fails if not regularly practiced and implemented,” Bucholz said. “Districts can’t be too prepared.”
Bucholz also stressed that school safety plans are not solely for incidents of violence, but for many other aspects as well.
“Weather, bus safety and natural disasters are main concerns of safety plans,” Bucholz said. “Schools are the safest places your children can be. School shootings are rare but heavily covered.”
One aspect of Michigan’s school safety law is notifying school administrators if a student has a criminal record. Hoffman believes that is a “prudent” measure for schools to take.
“We live in a litigious society and it may protect a school in the long run to know each student’s background,” Hoffman said. “It’s beneficial to a district to ensure the safety of the children in their care.”
Posthumus urged all students to be vigilant in reporting suspicious behavior around school. Last year, the Michigan State Police established the School Violence Hotline (1-800-815-TIPS) so students could anonymously report threats of violence.
“In nearly every situation of school violence, someone knew a crime was going to take place but never reported it,” Posthumus said.
According to Bucholz, school violence has declined significantly since Columbine. For instance, incidents of weapons at school dropped from 16 percent to 13 percent from 1999 to 2001.
Bucholz attributes that decrease partly to the implementation of safety plans in schools across the state.
“One school without a safety plan is one school too many,” Bucholz said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By CATHERINE BYRNE