Redesigned vestibules are among the most crucial aspects of modern school safety as they allow staff to monitor who can enter the building.

Redesigned vestibules are among the most crucial aspects of modern school safety as they allow staff to monitor who can enter the building.

Photo provided by Kristin Sommer

Schools review safety protocols, resources as they welcome back students in Troy

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published August 23, 2023


TROY — School is starting back up again, and while this is a good thing for many families, the ever-present threat of school shootings and other violent incidents can loom over parents’ minds.

As they welcome kids back, many school districts are sharing their plans and policies for school safety to reassure parents and welcome input on how they might better keep students safe.

Most school experts agree that the first and highest priority in terms of physical safety is controlling who can enter a school building.

“The first thing school districts should do in terms of physical safety is controlling who comes in and out,” said Todd Gilevich, the director of safety and security for Troy Public Schools. “You want to look at exterior doors and how they are accessed. This includes keeping track of who is coming and going through key fobs or physical keys, or key codes and cameras. You number your exterior doors so they can be communicated to first responders in the event of an emergency,” he said.

“Fraser has 12 buildings: one high school, one middle school, six elementary schools, one early childhood center, an administration building, an operations and maintenance building, and a transportation and maintenance building. All buildings have (all the district’s) safety measures installed,” said Dan Waters, Fraser Schools’ director of operations, maintenance, transportation and school safety. “Over the last two years, the district has invested about $2 million in security upgrades across the district.”

Waters said such measures have been in place in his district for nearly two decades.

“We’ve been focused on school safety since 2005. The bond we had then allowed us to install new entryways called sally ports. They are located in the vestibule, so anyone entering has to be let into the building by staff. We also put in Columbine locks, which allows teachers to lock their classroom door from the inside.”

Randy Liepa, the interim superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Public Schools, said similar vestibules are in the process of being added to all of Bloomfield Hills Schools’ buildings.

“Secure vestibules will provide both an audio and visual means to assist with this process,” he said in an email. “BHS aims to follow best practices and the recommendations as set forth by FEMA’s Systems Based Approach to layered school security. Secure vestibules for elementary and middle schools will be complete by the end of the Bond 2020 timeline.”

Other crucial measures include communication resources, staff training and emergency planning.

“We were granted a $250,000 grant from the Michigan State Police, which allowed us to update our PA systems so we can communicate across the buildings in the case of an emergency,” said Waters. “We also are installing emergency buttons this year and created a flip chart that staff all have so everyone knows how to respond in the case of any emergency situation. All staff also have mandatory safety training every year. … Emergency Safety Bags are installed in every classroom. We purchased new two-way radios so we can communicate between buildings.”

“Effective communications are an important part of the daily functions in all of our schools and facilities,” added Liepa. “These communications become even more important in the event of a critical incident where time is a crucial element. Having two-way radios in all buildings will allow district administrators to have direct conversations with one another, school resource officers, and local police dispatch in a critical incident.”

Working with local police departments or hiring security also are key steps taken by most districts.

“We had Macomb County Emergency Management, the local police, and Secure Education Consultants come into the school and check out our security,” said Waters. “We replaced our door numbers too, so any police who roll up know which doors have card access and they can enter through.”

“We reestablished our relationship with the Troy Fire Department and Oakland County Emergency Management System. We walked through with them to show them where all of our gas line shutoff valves are, and they knew the layout and door locations and have updated maps of the buildings,” said Gilevich. “One of the things Troy has in place is their contract with Safe-ED officers in each of the schools. They help monitor cameras, regulate traffic, and (are) on-hand to help during emergencies. The Troy Police Department also has three school resource officers to focus on the Troy School buildings.”

The last key pillar of school safety is communicating with students and to provide mental health resources to prevent issues before they can expand into a potentially violent situation.

“Our students’ safety and our buildings’ occupants’ safety is of the utmost importance. All necessary changes are being done to maximize safety,” Waters remarked. “We’re a leader in physical safety, and we are making mental and emotional support just as important. We’ve hired additional staff to identify kids having trouble or who need treatment.”

“BHS is committed to the mental health of our students by having social workers in all of our schools,” Liepa wrote. “We use two programs, Mental Health First Aid and SafeTalk, to share potential warning signs of a student in emotional distress and provide ways to provide additional support or immediate intervention. We are also continuing with the PrepareU mental health program in all grade 9 health classes. … Anyone can report tips confidentially on criminal activities or potential harm directed at students, school employees, or schools through OK2Say. Tips can be submitted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Students and families are encouraged to please report any incidents of bias and hate either to a trusted adult or through our online reporting tool. The district has dedicated staff prepared to assist when incidents are reported and support individuals who report an incident.”

Gilevich and Waters added that it also is important for families to discuss the importance of following safety protocols.

“There are exterior door stickers we put in to remind students not to open the doors for anyone in any situation, and outside it tells anyone trying to enter through the main doors,” said Waters. “There are privacy window screens on some of our windows so students could hide better inside if necessary. Doors have roll-down shades for the same reason.”

“Families can educate their kids on the importance of paying attention to the drills in their school, walking them through and calming them about those drills so they both pay attention and aren’t stressed out about those drills,” added Gilevich. “They also can ensure kids aren’t complacent about security measures. This means things like not propping open doors. The incident in Uvalde occurred because of one door propped open. The other thing is to remind them that if they see something, they should say something.”