In the wake of the Oxford High School shooting, questions about what goes on at school once students are dropped off have been everywhere.
Given what little law enforcement already knows about what happens after that first bell rings, the answers are cause for alarm.
“In one of the studies or research that I had read in one community showed that every for every major incident, a young person was involved in at least five to seven minor incidents were not reported,” Lt. Col. Chris Kelenske from Michigan State Police’s Office of School Safety said.
Legally, school districts have to report incidents or attempted incidents for a range of crimes. Under state law what those crimes are is not defined but state police keep track of everything from physical or sexual assault to theft to arson. Those have to be reported to MSP within 24 hours, but the problem is, it isn’t happening.
In 2020, Michigan State Police said only 4% of schools followed the law. That lack of reporting makes the job of MSP’s Office of School Safety which uses those numbers to track dangerous trends in schools that much harder.
“We received information from 150 schools. So the law states that it is required but there’s no teeth to it if they don’t report,” Nancy Becker-Bennett with MSP’s OSS said.
MSP knows it’s missing numbers because of the state’s OK2Say tipline -- where thousands of tips about possible crimes are reported by thousands of students each year. In 2020, more than 37,000 tips of crimes and threats were sent in from across the state.
Local 4 tried to get reports for each individual districts from around the state, but they’re exempt from public records requests. What was able to be released was a breakdown of the number of times police were called to schools statewide since 2017, which means data showed there were more than 1,800 thefts in 2017 or nearly 400 aggravated assaults in schools in 2019, but there was no way to know which schools those crimes took place in.
MSP officials said it shares its findings with members of the Michigan Department of Education -- who sit on the state’s school safety commission -- at least 4 times a year. When we asked if the department kept track of incidents or communicated with MSP about them at all, MDE spokesperson Martin Ackerly said in a one-word email, “No.”
In a follow up email, Ackerly said districts are required to put a record of certain incidents up on their websites and when it comes to the incident reports the department gets he said “MDE does not get these numbers from MSP unless we request them. Then we get the same report that is submitted to the school safety commission.”
Experts also fear more trouble may be on the way this school year, a worrisome thought if 96% of schools aren’t reporting like they should.
“I think we have had a lot of trauma for kids,” Amy Klinger from the Educators School Safety Network said.
The ESSN is a national group that makes a list of the states of concern for threats like school shootings or bombings based on the number of reports in the news. In their most recent report in 2018, Michigan was No. 1 on that list and fears things may get worse as kids come back to in person learning are on the rise.
“The kids that are coming back to school have more needs that are more in crisis than ever before. So I think there is a potential for things to get really bad,” Klinger said.
So, all of it begs the question, what more can be done to prevent another crisis, another tragedy, where kids should be the safest?
“What happens in the next 2, 3, 4 years is going to depend on the decisions we make in the next few years,” Klinger said.
“I think that’s just so critical for us to handle some of these issues collectively as a group, so we can really assist these students succeed,” Kelenske said.
MSP insist schools are still incredibly safe places to send kids and just because a school isn’t reporting doesn’t mean they’re not taking safety seriously.
In the wake of what we’ve seen, getting more schools to report, so law enforcement can get ahead of more trends, can make schools everywhere safer.