Proposal: Protect kids with more school police, counselors

Sidestepping the debate over gun laws, Michigan's law enforcement and education leaders on Thursday proposed a $120 million security plan that includes staffing schools with more police and counselors in light of last month's shooting massacre at a Florida high school.

The state spending would have to be authorized by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder. It would pay for 500 more "resource officers" - armed local police and sheriff's deputies embedded in school districts - and an unspecified number of school-based mental health professionals. About one-third of traditional districts now have such officers.

"Nothing in this proposal is controversial. Nothing here is divisive. These are commonsense, bipartisan solutions to a very real crisis that each and every one of us is confronted with every day," Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene said at a news conference at Holt High School south of Lansing. The proposal was supported by sheriffs, police chiefs, prosecutors, school boards and groups representing administrators, psychologists, social workers and counselors who work inside schools.

They said the plan is politically achievable at a time the gun debate among lawmakers still falls along predictable and largely partisan lines. Bills to arm teachers, allow pistols in gun-free zones and let courts order the temporary seizure of guns from people showing signs of mental distress or violence seem unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature, though the GOP governor is studying the "red flag" concept.

Under the school-security proposal, the state would allocate $50 million annually for school-based police, $50 million for counselors and $20 million to help update school buildings with "hardened" doors, windows and other security features. The security of every school in the state would have to be assessed at least once a year during walkthroughs by law enforcement.

Proponents said Michigan has roughly one school counselor for every 750 students, one school social worker for every 1,000 students and one school psychologist for every 4,800 students - well below recommended levels.

"It is critical that we have first responders like sheriffs and police in place in the case of an emergency. However, the presence of counselors and mental health professionals we know from experience can prevent many tragedies from ever happening," said Lansing School District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul.

Snyder did not include a school-security proposal in his budget when it was presented to legislators in early February, but that came a week before the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. Spokeswoman Anna Heaton said Thursday he has asked budget director John Walsh to be prepared to adjust the spending plan to include extra funding for school safety.

"The governor has been spending a lot of time looking into how we can create safer and more secure environments in schools," she said. "It looks like some of the things we have been looking at are similar to the recommendations made today. But there is a lot of work to be done still."

St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon said budget cuts led to a reduction in school resource officers in the last decade. The officers' value is "incalculable," said Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth.

"What doesn't happen because a school resource officer is in the building each and every day?" he said.

Other components of the plan would require that threats against schools be reported to law enforcement, create a graduated system of criminal penalties for those who make threats and ease the ability to mandate that they get a mental health evaluation. Specifics are unlikely to be hashed out until the proposal is introduced in the form of legislation.


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