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Posted on Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Some Washtenaw County schools break state law by not complying with safety drill requirements

By Kyle Feldscher


Ypsilanti Middle School violated state law by not doing all the safety drills required during the last two school years.

Kyle Feldscher |

A review of school safety drill records provided by 44 Washtenaw County schools shows most conducted the required number of drills under state law, but many did not follow rules about when the drills had to be done.

The degree to which schools complied with the law varied widely throughout the county. reviewed the records of fire, severe weather and lockdown drills kept by schools in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years as part of a statewide project coordinated by MLive Media Group. The records revealed a handful of schools complying perfectly with state law. Many others were sloppy.

Of the schools surveyed by, 14 avoided breaking the law in 2010-11, and 12 followed all aspects of the law in 2011-12. Many of the schools that broke the law only did three fire drills in the fall semester, instead of the required four.

One school didn’t do enough fire drills one year, didn’t do enough severe weather drills the next and didn’t provide records of lockdown drills. Another school did six of of its 10 required drills in June during the 2011-12 school year. One school did three fire drills on one day, two years in a row.

The MLive Media Group investigation comes as Michigan awaits results of a school-safety review Gov. Rick Snyder ordered after the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 schoolchildren and six educators. Across the state, MLive found disaster drills were not being done as often as required at many schools. Some schools could not provide documentation of the drills and many principals and superintendents were ignorant of the laws’ requirements.

A law with no teeth

Michigan state law requires schools to hold six fire drills, two severe weather and two code red or lockdown drills in each school year. Four fire drills must be held in the first semester and two in the second. Schools are required to keep a record of these drills. However, they’re not required to turn those records over to anyone inside the state government for oversight.

That’s why Ypsilanti Middle School hasn’t seen any rebuke from the state government for failing to comply with the law. According to records, the school only held four fire drills in the 2011-12 school year — none of them in the first semester — and had just one tornado drill in 2010-11.

Sharon Irvine, district director of human resources, could not provide documents proving the school did the code red or lockdown drills, which are designed to make sure students and staff know what to do in the event someone, such as a gunman, poses a threat to the school. Instead, she provided dates. She said one lockdown drill was done on Sept. 30, 2010, and another one was done "after school in April" in the 2011-12 school year. Only one tornado drill was done in the 2010-11 school year, on March 16, 2011, Irvine said.

“There’s been a shifting expectation of what those terms are,” Irvine said of the lack of lockdown records. “We haven’t settled on official protocol or template. We do have dates.”

Compliance at other schools surveyed by varied. Some schools failed to do the required number of drills. Others bunched drills up to get in the required number. Some schools could not or did not provide the requested records.

Compliance in Ann Arbor Public Schools asked each individual school district in Washtenaw County, except Ann Arbor, for one school’s records from the last two complete school years. Since Ann Arbor Public Schools is the largest district in the area, asked for the records from the three comprehensive high schools, one middle school and one elementary school.

One school district, Whitmore Lake, had not fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request as of press time. Most districts provided the information without a FOIA request.

AAPS spokeswoman Liz Margolis provided the dates of drills from every school in the district for 2010-11 and 2011-12, giving a full view of the district’s compliance.

In 2010-11, Allen Elementary School, Abbot Elementary School, Ann Arbor Open School, Bach Elementary School and Huron High School were the only schools identified as being in perfect compliance. They complied with the letter of the law and didn't bunch their drills up in order to achieve technical compliance with the required number. In 2011-12, only Abbot and Pittsfield Elementary School were in perfect compliance.


Tappan Middle School did three fire drills on the same day.

Ann Arbor Public Schools photo

Two schools that did all the required drills, but may not have followed the spirit of the law, were Tappan Middle School and Haisley Elementary School.

In both years, Tappan did three fire drills on the same day. At Haisley, three fire drills, one tornado drill and two lockdown drills were done during June 2012, just before the school year ended.

Margolis said the timing of drills is up to building principals. The drills are done at different times, such as lunch or during recess, in order to get students and staff used to emergency situations during unplanned times.

Margolis said she didn’t see an issue with many of the drills being done late in the school year.

“These are being done every single year,” she said. “Maybe at the kindergarten level they’re new to the kids, but it’s something the kids do and they know safety protocols. Sometimes, the staff say don’t do it in the dead of winter, even though that scenario can happen.”

Margolis added, “The point is they’re doing them and doing them routinely and taking them very seriously.”

No Ann Arbor schools failed to do all 10 required drills in the two years sampled by

A mixed-bag of compliance county-wide

Schools surveyed outside of Ann Arbor had spotty compliance with the law. Among the findings:

  • Harvest Elementary School, in Saline, only did three fire drills in spring both years, according to records. The school did do the 10 required drills during the school year.
  • In Manchester, Klager Elementary School did the requisite number of drills both years, but only held three fire drills in the fall in 2010-11.
  • Willow Run High School had perfect compliance in 2010-11, but did not do all six required fire drills in 2011-12. Seven of the fire, severe weather and lockdown drills were done in May.
  • In Dexter, Mill Creek Middle School did a fire drill, severe weather drill and lockdown drill between 8:20 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 24, 2010, and did the same thing Sept. 23, 2011. School officials said this was a part of a safety hour done every year. The school was compliant with the law.
  • In Chelsea, North Creek Elementary School did all six of its fire drills in the fall in both years.
  • Brick Elementary School, from Lincoln Consolidated Schools, had perfect compliance in 2010-11, but in 2011-12, it only did three fire drills in the first semester, not the required four.

Despite the fact Brick missed one of the required drills in fall 2011, Ellen Bonter, superintendent of Lincoln schools, said the district takes the drills seriously and schools generally do a good job following the letter and spirit of the law.

She credited Lynn Cleary, the superintendent who Bonter replaced, for making building principals aware of what is expected of them when it comes to drills. Bonter said mixing up the timing of the drills, such as having them at recess and lunchtime, is crucial.

“Principals recognize they need to shake things up a bit,” she said. “(Emergencies don’t) always take place during scheduled class time. Maybe it happens during recess or lunch. Emergencies don’t just happen at convenient times.”

Ambiguity in the law


Bryan Girbach

One of the issues with the law is the ambiguity on what records are required, to whom the records should be turned over and who should be keeping them.

Milan Area Schools superintendent Bryan Girbach was able to provide records for Paddock Elementary School for 2011-12 but could not for 2010-11. Paddock did not do one of the two required lockdown drills in 2011-12.

Girbach said the records for 2010-11 were not available because the district allowed principals to simply keep the date and record of the drills in their personal calendars. The principal during the 2010-11 school year had moved on and Girbach was unable to get those records.

He said the district’s system for keeping those records was changing in light of’s request. A form was created 16 years ago when Girbach was a building principal but was not in use. He said he’d pulled that form out of his files, made copies and was going to require building principals to use them from now on.

For now, Girbach’s word is the only proof that exists that Paddock did all its drills in 2010-11. Without oversight from the state, that will suffice.

“I will swear on a Bible, we did the same drills that year,” he said.

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.


Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

I've clarified something in this story: Harvest Elementary School in Saline did do the required 10 drills in both years. The story, as originally written, only mentioned that three fire drills were done in the first semester. The required 10 drills were done by the school in both years and three fire drills were held in the first semester both years.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

I've clarified something in the story. Mill Creek Middle School did a safety hour every year, which is why all the drills were in a short time frame. In addition, I've clarified the school was compliant with the law.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

I would hope that failure to comply with these laws and regulations will be reflected in leadership's performance reviews. School principals, assistant principals and superintendents should all have their performance reviews dinged for failing to meet their legal obligations.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

This is part of the job! If the people in charge can not or will not do the job get someone who can do the job!


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

Sorry, but they are under contract for a couple more years and cannot be fired. It all comes back to the leadership and it's been horribly failing for years in Ypsi and WR...and rewarded as well.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

I read this article and what shocks me the most is the lack of penalties for schools that violate the law, and the lack of required record keeping required by law. After spending last week proctoring ACT/MME testing that the state requires, I still don't want to see paperwork, yet when it comes to safety drills no real paperwork is required. The law needs to be strengthened to mandate the same drills and to require the Department of Education receive, at the end of each semester (or by Feb 1 and the end of school for schools on Trimesters), a form stating the date and time of each drill conducted. This form must be signed by each building principal, and each superintendent prior to being submitted to the state. In addition, the drills need to be conducted at various times during the school day, and no more than one drill may be conducted on a given day. The biggest change will be that the penalties for non-compliance need to be strengthened. School districts need to be penalized for non-compliance with the law. This penalty doesn't need to be harsh for first offenses, but if a district, or a particular building are continually in violation of the law, then the district, and the building administrators need to be held accountable, up to and including substantial fines (personal and to the district). If violations still continue, the administrators in question should be faced with license suspension. In response to psuedo's comment. How many drills? As many as are required to get the importance of these drills across to students. Remember, students all learn different ways. Some students learn best by reading things, while others learn best by doing things. By actually practicing what needs to be done, students actually learn what needs to be done by doing, rather than just being told what to do. If you have ever worked in a classroom you should know this. It is no different than any other type of learning, other than they are a pain in the butt to the staff.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

I agree 100%. These drills are for everyones safety at these schools. Parents should be out raged if there childrens shcools are not doing the drills that are required.

Dog Guy

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

Bert the Turtle is angry that nuclear Duck and Cover drills aren't being done and he's coming back to deal with you principals (deedle-dum, deedle-dum).


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

I think Tappan gets a waiver for having to lock down 3 weeks in a row back in September of 2010. Remember all those bank robberies? Holy moley. Otherwise, Tappan does do a good job of making sure its children are safe. Now, about Pioneer High School?


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

@RxDx, all the other activities you point out with the exception of school cancellations are normal school functions. I think drills also teach in that they show children how to respond in an emergency. When I grew up in the 60's we had fire, tornado and nuclear attack drills. Not only that the fire department would come around and have an unannounced drill so it could seen how everyone including teachers and staff reacted when they were surprised.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

I like the idea of the fire marshal coming by and conducting a random fire drill, however in this government economy I'm not sure the fire departments could even afford that. I think that could be a required drill for schools that continually fail to follow required drills. If a district or building does not have the required number of fire drills for 3 years in a row, then maybe the fire marshal should come in and conduct a random drill to test the building staff since the school district would have proven they could not do it themselves. The same thing could be done with the police for a repeated violations of lock down or severe weather drills.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

What about Chelsea, Manchester, and Dexter? Why are those districts left out of the article, but Ypsi and Willow Run get compared to the "perfect" records of some schools in Ann Arbor? Not that I am supporting Ypsi-Run, but some information from those districts would have painted a bigger picture on the severity of the issue.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 2:44 a.m.

"In Manchester, Klager Elementary School did the requisite number of drills both years, but only held three fire drills in the fall in 2010-11. In Dexter, Mill Creek Middle School did a fire drill, severe weather drill and lockdown drill between 8:20 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 24, 2010, and did the same thing Sept. 23, 2011. School officials said this was a part of a safety hour done every year. The school was compliant with the law. In Chelsea, North Creek Elementary School did all six of its fire drills in the fall in both years."

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

sc8 - Further down in the story, I discuss the schools from Chelsea, Manchester and Dexter that I received records from.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

I think after the merger you might see more drills then what is already being done currently.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

Kids are in school to learn- safely. If administrators aren't doing their jobs, what ARE they getting paid for? Time to look at moving those noncompliant principals elsewhere. Shake things up a bit. No excuses.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

Why is it that whenever a law or regulation requires a government entity to perform a task, there are *never* any penalties for non-compliance?


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

The drills are a good thing, but they do take away a lot of teaching time. Combined with three to four days of MEAP testing, the daily Pledge of Allegiance, book fairs, building announcements, district initiative activities, state initiative activities, hearing and vision screening, scoliosis screening, random assemblies, pep rallies, snow days, power outages, IEP meetings, birthday parties, actual lockdowns for good reason, broken water mains, Earth Day, Constitution Day, and assorted other interruptions to the teaching day, they do cause problems with seamless delivery of the ever-expanding curriculum. When I was teaching, we usually tried to set a calendar for the drills at the beginning of the school year. I remember one year when we had to cram in a whole bunch of fire drills at the end of the year because nobody noticed that we had had school cancellations on the days that the drills were originally scheduled. (little known trade secret: when the fire alarm "accidentally" goes off, you can't count that as a fire drill. however, if the building evacuation went well, you sometimes throw it into the mix)


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

Maybe the school day should be a 5 to 10 minutes longer each day?


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 11:20 a.m.

No one can argue that school drills are not essential. Nor can anyone excuse not doing them. It's atrocious that a school would shortchange the students in this manner. We need drills at the beginning of the school year to help acquaint new staff and new students to the procedure and acquaint current students with where to go and what to do from new classrooms and facilities. However, the article in MLive that is linked and forms the basis for this is sensationalist. It quotes one security expert and highlights it in the article. He insists the number of deaths from school shootings is far more "common" than from fire with the reason being improved fire safety systems in schools. Common??? School shootings are common? Common implies there is a routine frequency to these deaths. I would argue that there aren't significantly more of these than in the past. Refer to this article which lists school killings going back to the 1700s: I would also argue that the number of fires (not fire-related deaths) in schools is far higher. FEMA has a 2007 report that noted that in one year there were 14,700 calls to fire departments from schools: Please note from the Wikipedia article that the number of schools in 2010 were approximated at about 140,000. So, 10% of the schools have had fire responses. Yet, this so-called expert is playing on the fears of the moment to push code red drills in Grand Rapids and reduce fire drills. Please save us from experts like these. While we need student drills and they need to be conducted, let's not lose our perspective here nor should MLive sensationalize without fact checking.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

Dennis, You're research and sound comments are much appreciated! And I agree with everything you said. Thanks for the great stats!


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 11:07 a.m.

and what happens when there is a problem and something goes wrong... this las lawsuit allll over it. pseudo, we drill for the "what ifs" in life, be prepared...


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 10:46 a.m.

how many drills? are our students in school to drill or learn? do our teachers get to stand on their heads while balancing spinning plates too?


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

I don't disagree with the value of a few drills but drills are very expensive and disrupting for students. The frequency here is too much and too disruptive. I am not saying "never practice" - but once a month? twice a month? shooter drill here, tornado drill there, fire drills...look, i have a current relationship with the high school - the notifications of K-9 practice, partial lock-downs, drills and such...these are significant distractions that require significant documentation. Do them but balance the needs appropriately.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

This is part of the job! If the people in charge can not or will not do the job get someone who can do the job! These drills should be scheduled just like assemblies and sporting evens.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

Really, with what has happened in Newtown, Connecticut, why would anyone question the rationale behind safety drills? Do you need something to actually happen at your child's school before you consider them important? Prevention is key to minimizing injury and loss of life. Seriously. A little common sense. And the kids do learn during these drills- they learn to be responsible, and to think!


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

I think this goes hand in hand with all the testing the teachers are shoving down the childrens throats. If they are not testing? They are doing a drill. Go figure. These children just can't get anything right or done with big brother telling them what to do and when.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

Safety in schools should be a concern to all. The drills should be conducted at various times throughout the year to accommodate for the fact that schools have turnover during the year.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

I've had to deal with three fires at schools where I was principal. The value of the drills is that the students know the routine and don't panic. Also, for all they do, most teachers might prefer standing on their heads and spinning plates . . .


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 11:06 a.m.

There is nothing wrong with practice in case an issue does arise. It just could save lives, as most will know how to react. Go figure!