Michigan school safety task force says $486M should be split between mental health, school hardening

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has released its final report on what school districts need to keep students, faculty and staff safe.

The report is the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of work since the shooting Oxford High School during which four students died, and dozens of others were injured and traumatized. Overall, the task force’s recommendation is to spend $486 million on programs split almost evenly between mental health and school hardening.

“I’m really excited about the extra money, put it towards mental health. And it was in the budget. I think there’s still work to be done there,” said Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville).

They also made six recommendations, including extended lockdown kits, window ladders for upper floors, cameras in classrooms that make it easier to hire counselors.

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“The good thing is that we have a lot of people who want to do this. The bad thing is we have almost too many hands in the pot,” said Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi). “We need to get this going somehow.”

But there are things they could not agree on. Namely, gun restrictions. Should schools be able to encourage parents to keep their guns safe, should schools be gun-free zones, should schools be included in extreme risk protection orders or so-called “red flag laws,” and should schools should allow the carrying of weapons by trained personnel other than resource officers.

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Throughout the task force’s work, firearms have been an issue. Members ultimately decided they believed the issue of guns and gun safety was bigger than schools, although they acknowledged that violence at home too often spills over into schools.

In the fall, there were fears that the incoming Democratic leadership in Lansing could torpedo both the real work and the good will that made it happen by forcing gun legislation through the school task force. Still, after talking with leadership on both sides of the aisle, Breen said both returning Democrats and Republicans say they expect to pick up where they left off.

“These are nonpartisan issues, for the most part, so we have money in the bank right now.” And if we’re not protecting our kids and making sure they go to school safely, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing here,” Breen said.

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The working group will be restarted with 8 members. Five members will be new. Brin, Merman and Rep. will return. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton). The parallel school safety commission currently under the jurisdiction of the Michigan State Police should be moved to the Department of Education to better work with schools. The new session of the state legislature begins on January 1.

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