The Michigan House has launched a bipartisan school safety task force in the wake of the Nov. 30 Oxford High School shooting to examine safety issues and policy solutions that can prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
The eight-member task force, consisting of four Republicans and four Democrats, will examine school safety protocols and students’ mental health and related servies. The committee hopes to make recommendations early in 2022.
Legislators have unanimously agreed that more steps need to be taken to improve mental health among students.
“Outside of Oxford, I think everyone can see just the tremendous increase in demand for school mental health help,” Rep. Luke Meerman of Coopersville, and a member of the task force stated. “It was there before COVID, and just has been exacerbated by COVID.”
The task force comes after the Oxford High School shooting, a grisly rampage that left four students dead and several others injured.
The shooter, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, faces four counts of first-degree murder, while his parents James and Jennifer Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter due to their negligence.
The task force has stated that it does not plan to make recommendations regarding gun regulations, which are unlikely to be passed. Instead, they intend to suggest other strategies for schools to improve safety.
“I’m sure it will come up, but just looking at history and knowing where our personal beliefs are I’m not really optimistic we’ll come up with substantive gun legislation,” VanSingel told The Detroit News. “It has to be something that will pass through the Legislature.”
VanSingel formerly sponsored legislation to allow schools to implement security measures such as barricades and door-locking devices for use during lockdown emergencies. In fact, Oxford High School used a door barricade during the recent shooting, called Nightlock, developed by security company Mount Morris.
Van Singel said he is looking for more solutions.
“The goal is to actually have something we can put into legislation and begin to chip away at this problem. We learn from each one of these experiences and we want to find out what we could have done better. Most of those solutions we can probably have bipartisan support on,” Van Singel added.
Democratic Senator Sara Cambensy, a former administrator for Marquette Area Public Schools, doesn’t believe that guns are the root cause of the problem. Instead, she sees mental health as a more pressing concern, especially during the COVID pandemic.
Cambensy said she hopes to expand mental health and counselling programs, as well as the Michigan State Police OK2SAY program, which allows students to report people who have made threats toward others or themselves.
“This program has been extremely successful at preventing more tragedies from happening, and I am a huge proponent of providing more funding and resources for it so that this task doesn’t fall solely on school administrators and teachers to solve,” she said.
Meerman said he has previously worked with school counselors and psychologists following a student’s suicide and understands the importance of mental health.
The senator has discussed the issue with Nick Jaskiw, a school psychologist in the Newaygo County RESA and a former president of the Michigan Association of School Psychologists, who agreed that there needs to be a holistic approach towards mental health.
“When you look at those situations, it’s a reminder that when you’re approaching these challenges, you can’t separate suicide prevention, school safety and student mental health,” he said. “Those pieces are critical and that’s been the focus of all the departments working with the associations.”