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

Task force created in wake of mass shooting at Oxford High School

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 over nearly a year’s worth of work after the shooting at Oxford High School which left four students dead and dozens other injured and traumatized. In all, 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 in towards mental health. And that was in the budget. I think there’s more work to be done there,” Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville) said.

They also made six recommendations among them kits for extended lockdowns, window ladders for upper floors, cameras in classrooms making it easier to hire counselors.

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

But there are things they couldn’t agree on. Namely restrictions on guns. Whether schools should be able to encourage parents to store their guns safely, whether schools should be gun free zones, should schools be involved in Extreme Risk Protection orders or so-called “red flag laws” and whether they schools should allow guns to be carried by trained staff beyond resource officers.

Throughout the task force’s work firearms had been a sticking point. Members ultimately deciding they believed the issue of guns and guns safety was bigger than schools although acknowledged violence at home all too often spills into schools.

In the fall, there were fears that incoming Democratic leadership in Lansing could torpedo both actual work and the goodwill that got it done by forcing gun legislation into the purview of the school task force. However, after conversations 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 non-partisan issues, for the most part, so and we’ve got money in the bank right now. And if we’re not protecting our kids and making sure they can go to school safely, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing here,” said Breen.

The task force will be restarted with 8 members. Five members will be new. Breen, Meerman and Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) will be returning. A parallel school safety commission which is currently under the jurisdiction of Michigan State Police is set to be moved to the Department of Education to better work with schools. The new session of the state legislature begins Jan. 1.

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