Metro Detroit teacher speaks out on school shootings, how to make schools safer for students

How a teacher in Troy is fighting to make schools safer It's been nearly five months since state lawmakers decided to come together to make recommendations about how to keep kids safer in schools. So far, the school safety task force hasn't made anything final.

In the weeks after the shooting that took four lives at Oxford High School, Michigan lawmakers in the House of Representatives restarted a task force. Four Republicans and four Democrats to take on what needs to be done to make schools safer. After months have gone by, only a single bill has been made law.

“I figured the more hands-on-deck the better, right? I wondered what they would do differently compared to what we’ve already done,” said Justine Galbraith. “there’s so much that they could be doing that, in my opinion, they should be doing.”

Galbraith is an 8th-grade English and Spanish teacher in Troy. She’s also a member of the State’s School Safety Commission appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to represent teachers. While she isn’t speaking for the commission, she has agreed to talk to Local4/ClickonDetroit as one of its members.

“It’s frustrating. When you know what the holes in the law are, and you see bills being proposed repeatedly,” she said.

In an opinion piece written in Bridge magazine, Galbrieth said the state doesn’t need a new task force, just lawmakers to step up.

“[The commission was] formed after Parkland, it was within six months that the recommendations were published, and now it’s four years later and we’re in progress,” Galbraith said.

Galbraith said the School Safety Commission, which works alongside the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan State Police and teachers like her, can only make recommendations, not laws. She’s felt stuck in the work they’ve been able to do, especially when it comes to changing Michigan’s gun laws.

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“I don’t know. I can point the finger at the commission; we’re not lawmakers. And I don’t know if it’s fair to point the finger just at those eight legislators on the school safety task force in the house… but this is their job and these are bills, these are laws that the vast majority of people support.”

Right now in Michigan, there are no laws on safe gun storage, no red flag laws or laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. In fact, 24 bills with measures commonly considered to be common sense haven’t moved forward in Lansing; most were filed in the days after Oxford.

Read more: Lawsuit seeks to advocate for mental health, hold Oxford Community Schools accountable for mass shooting

“Did we think it could never come here to Michigan? Did we think we were magic?” Galbraith said. “These things that we heard in Florida and Texas and Sandy Hook did we think it could never come here, and it was only a matter of time until it did, and now four kids in Oxford are gone. What we’re doing isn’t enough”

The state’s current school task force released preliminary recommendations, like school safety assessments and funding for mental health programs, but no recommendations about guns.

“We can’t not talk about the role that guns play in gun violence,” said Galbraith.

In conversations, lawmakers on the task force have said the talks were personal, frank and productive. But there are worries that productivity may be too fragile. Even rumors of changing gun laws may be enough to spook Republicans in the state House and Senate in a very charged election year.

For Galbraith, who teaches and has children of her own, the longer lawmakers take with their recommendations, the more thoughts that are supposed to be unthinkable -- aren’t.

“I’m really worried. I think every teacher has their days where they think ‘is my door locked? What if I forgot to keep my door locked because we have magnets that whatever, we’ve got a system that can close them quickly.’ Or ‘what if this happens should I do this? Should I protect my students but maybe risk myself?’' Or maybe I should do this that would maybe preserve myself for my own children and no one should have to be in that position.’”

But still, there’s hope that maybe this time will be different. Although she agreed, hope is hard.

“It is hard when you get the news of a Uvalde and you’re at school. Just today, this evil landed here. Where’s it going to land tomorrow?”

Related: Full video: Matthew McConaughey delivers emotional plea for gun law reform after Uvalde shooting

About the Author:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.