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Posted on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 5 p.m.

Lawmakers need to establish clear, uniform school safety requirements

By Guest Column

Editor's note: This is an MLive Media Group editorial that appeared in the print edition on Sunday.

It is time to quit paying lip service to school safety in Michigan. Anything else is a betrayal of our children.

A new MLive Media Group investigation found serious shortcomings across the state in how well schools are preparing students for fires, severe weather or armed threats.

Mandatory drills are skipped, or there is no proof they were done as the law requires. Administrators are either ignorant of the lapses or look the other way.

Some make excuses for not doing them. Their litany is long: They are inconvenient. Staff is extremely busy. True threats are exceedingly rare.


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

Kyle Feldscher |

All true, but the alternative - unprepared students and staff members facing the unthinkable - is too horrific to consider. And no one can excuse turning the drills into a mockery, as some administrators have by cramming half or more into the end of the school year, or doing as many as eight in a day.

Robert Kauffmann, president of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, acknowledged as much. “I think we all know this is something we can’t take lightly anymore,” he said.

What then, can be done?

A task force, created by Gov. Rick Snyder in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, will meet for the first time this week in an effort to find answers. MLive’s findings will be at the forefront of discussions, said Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, which is leading the effort.

Here then are six points the group should address, and lawmakers as well:

  • Create transparency: Require schools to post drill documents on their websites, just as they must financial information. Let parents see whether drills are done. Many shortcomings might disappear under the light of scrutiny. Require school boards to receive an annual report as well.
  • Provide clarity: Make clearer what information must be recorded. The law requiring documentation is vague and recording practices are all over the place. Some districts use detailed state forms; others rely on jotted calendar notes with minimal details.
  • Colleges and universities, too: Confusion reigns over what’s required for drills, and the law’s language is muddy. Requirements for higher education must be clearly enunciated and made uniform from campus to campus.
  • Disappearing documents: State rules allow districts to destroy drill records at the end of every school year. Require records be kept for one additional year, so parents always have a full year to assess.
  • Reassess the mix of drills: Six fire, two tornado and two lockdown exercises are annually required. Keep the number of drills. Repetition builds muscle memory, and teaches students an alarm is cause for action, not panic. But we live in a new age. Fires are not the threat they once were. Increase lockdowns, and perhaps severe weather drills, even if it means a small reduction in fire drills.
  • Put teeth into the law. Task force members and lawmakers should consider reasonable penalties, and a way to enforce them, possibly through a system of spot checks of online records. Local emergency coordinators could be of help here.

True, this would impact the many diligent public, private and charter schools that do not ignore the law. That includes those schools that set a drill schedule early and alert parents, so that they may talk to their children about the importance of taking the exercises seriously.

But the honor system has not worked. Lawmakers did not require oversight, and too many administrators are abusing that. Now they too should embrace reform, and help make Michigan a model for the nation.

Anything else is just lip service - including from those who sent letters home after Sandy Hook, reassuring parents they had solid plans, when in practice they were breaking the law.

This endorsement is the opinion of the editorial board of MLive Media Group, the parent company of The board is made up of the company's executive leadership, content directors and editors who oversee the 10 local markets that make up MLive Media Group.



Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

The threat of Soviet nuclear attack was almost considered imminent the 1950s. In grade school, we got a "special treat" - a short (civil defense ) movie was shown. Teachers explained to us that we'd be practicing (at the sound of a bell) the actions we'd seen in the film. One clear memory of that first bomb drill was of kids hiding under their flimsy desks crying - they thought the terrible flash and destruction was the next thing that would happen. They wanted to go home (not realizing that mom and dad were probably not at home but at work or out on errands.) TV news of the day featured plans for bomb shelters, "responsible citizens" were shown building their own bomb shelters. Drop and cover! was the watchword of that day. It's apparent that national program - which people took seriously - would've made no difference even if such a massive attack had taken place. Studies later showed that there'd be "Mutual Assured Destruction." Today this same kind of "national" or "statewide" approach is being used to protect against: young males armed with guns, acting singly or rarely in pairs. Let me suggest: mass killers like Lanza are exceedingly rare, they're not nations attacking with nuclear weapons, they're not terrorist teams or Navy Seals. Investigators report that Lanza planned his attack for max effect, he developed a spread sheet analysis (found in his room) of all past mass shootings. He targeted the school because it was "target rich". He used standard police room-clearing methods each time he entered a room. His mother: bought the guns he used in her own name:he couldn't buy them himself. It took, police say, 2 yrs. for Lanza to prepare for his attack. Absolute proof: 1 person could have stopped him (his mom). She could've reported his deranged state to authorities. All mass shooters could've been stopped by similar reporting. No need for "civil defense programs."


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

If those drills give my daughter or her classmates a better chance of surviving if there was a tornado or fire why would Anyone be against that . They do drills so kids don't freak out when they here the sirens go off of course they still will but maybe not as much because they have done the drills and if the schools can't follow guidelines for the drills what else are they not doing just makes ya wonder. I went Thru 12 years of public school don't ever remember those drills disrupting our Learning maybe for the time it disrupted at That moment but otherwise no I know how to spell still and read how funny


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 1:57 p.m.

If someone could prove, i.e., statistics, not anecdotes, that these so-called safety preparation exercises led to positive outcomes, then this might be an issue worthy of considering. However, given the lack of such evidence, this is simply jaw-flapping (and yet again another exercise intended to teach children that they are sheep who much obey the commands of the State).

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

I'd like to see those statistics. Are they available? Because insurance companies often use this sort of thing as marketing. Think of your car insurance. You try to get the best rate, but unless you're one of the few who get ticketed a lot or get into accidents, you're best off shopping around, finding what companies are trying to expand their business. One way they attract or keep business is through "good driver" discounts. How do they know? It's just marketing. They make you feel like you've accomplished something by not having points on your license. So you're less likely to shop around when they increase their rates. Fire codes prevent fires. That saves lives. Fire drills? No idea. In my case, they probably made me less safe, because I would be tempted to disobey the teacher, thinking it was just another annoying drill.

Basic Bob

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

the insurance industry has statistics, and they even offer reduced premiums to the sheep who can prove they have a safety plan. their statistics prove to them that they can reduce the risk of death and injury and they are happy to avoid paying out big settlements to grieving and litigious parents. otoh, if the insurance company and fire inspector determine that safety procedures are not followed, the non-sheep will pay dearly.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 3:09 a.m.

I don't think my school has anything to worry about---we have these drills on a regular basis--fire, tornado, and lockdown.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 2:45 a.m.

Surprise, all schools are not the same. Why should the same rules apply across the state ? Detroit schools have metal detectors yet that doesn't mean all schools in the state should have them. Schools are also not the same sizes, some are larger and or have more students in each class. It should be up to each school how best to prepare for an emergency. More regulations will just increase costs and could even harm certain schools.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 12:28 a.m.

@ Mike, re: "How about worrying about them learning to read an write?" To quote Maynard G. Krebs, talking to his High School English teacher, "You learned me English real good!"


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 2:46 a.m.

Hey we went to US public schools, lol


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 12:24 a.m.

One thing to keep in mind is the currently-unpopular fact that there has never been a safer time, in this country, than the present moment. I'm reminded of the British writer who decided to set out to re-create his 1973 hitch-hiking trip across the US, armed only with a guitar, a couple of books, and a sleeping bag (OK, this time he also carried a VISA card for those miserable, rainy, can't-get-a-ride nights). All of his friends told him that it was WAY too dangerous these days; the world has changed! Being a journalist, though, he called up the FBI, who told him that every major crime stat was way DOWN since 1973. Now, doesn't that just burn you up to hear that?!! And, of course, it turns out that you can read about the ancient Greeks talking about, "The kids these days!" and complaining about how the world was quickly going to Hell in a Handbasket. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, n'est-ce pas?


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 11:37 p.m.

How about worrying about them learning to read an write?


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 2:54 a.m.

People sometimes forget what schools should be for. I know I learn more in 2 years of college then I did in 4 years of high school. Example, in high school the first 5--10 mins of each class was for attendance. Teacher would call out each name and you had to respond. If you came in late, you had to explain why. In college classes started on time, the teacher / Instructor would just start teaching. Everybody had assign seats, if not present they would just make a note of it during the class without saying anything. If you came in late, the teacher would not stop speaking or notice you...least they would not say anything to you. It was your lost, people were all there to learn. To this day I still resent the poor education I got from public high school. Sure I had fun in high school but I also had fun in college and got way more out of it.

Basic Bob

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 12:20 a.m.

an spel.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 11:13 p.m.

Or you could teach your own children not to fly kites with metal keys attached during thunderstorms. I'm not sure what fire drills teach, anyway. We had a lot of them growing up - they were annoying and loud, and kids have sensitive ears and start looking for places to hide from the noise rather than walking in an orderly fashion past the sources of the noise. All they really teach is that when the fire alarm goes off, nothing serious is happening.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 4:35 a.m.

I'm not angry. I just lean libertarian. I'm sorry you disagree with me about gay rights and the efficacy of George W. Bush's presidency. I think I'm with the overwhelming majority of Ann Arborites on these issues.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 11:03 p.m.

"Require schools to post drill documents on their websites" - what a goldmine for anyone who might want to plan an attack.. "found serious shortcomings across the state in how well schools are preparing students for fires, severe weather or armed threats." Drill all you want but any serious security expert will tell you every single one of their "plans" for armed threats does not include an IMMEDIATE armed response. Even forts and castles can deny access for only so long...Newtown should have been a wake up call for more than just "guns bad"

Basic Bob

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 12:19 a.m.

they need to post the records, not the procedures and it's not as if the procedures are arbitrary and unpredictable. for fires, go outside, for tornadoes, go to an inside room. there, i gave it away.

dading dont delete me bro

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.