Outside the Sterling Heights Community Center Aug. 23, Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski talks to the media about safety procedures being performed in local schools.

Outside the Sterling Heights Community Center Aug. 23, Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski talks to the media about safety procedures being performed in local schools.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes 

First-ever regional school safety summit held

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published September 1, 2022

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MACOMB COUNTY —  As the 2022-2023 school year gets underway, a group of local educators, elected officials and law enforcement personnel met Aug. 23 to discuss school safety. 

The group convened at the Sterling Heights Police Department for its first-ever regional school safety summit. Together, they shared with one another which school safety measures are working and which challenges educators continue to face to keep schools secure. Following the meeting, attendees held a press conference with local media outside the Sterling Heights Community Center.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, a Democrat who represents Michigan’s 9th Congressional District; Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel; Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski; Warren Consolidated Schools Superintendent Robert Livernois; and Utica Community Schools Superintendent Robert Monroe were among those in attendance.

“School safety remains a priority for every member of our community. We greatly value the close working relationship we have with law enforcement,” Monroe said. “Working together, we are taking the proactive measures necessary to ensure a safe and positive learning environment for our students.”

In the wake of school shootings since Columbine in 1999, many school districts, including Utica and Warren Consolidated, have added more safety measures, including additional security cameras and more secure vestibules. Teachers have been trained for active shooter situations through the programs Run, Hide, Fight and ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. Educators also are bringing in more school counselors to further help students with their social, mental and emotional needs. Schools practice lockdowns with students and staff. 

“The county just hired a school safety specialist and every single school in Macomb County has to submit safety plans to the county, and those things have to be relatively unified so we don’t have a shotgun approach to how we do school safety,” Dwojakowski said. “When it gets down to individual school districts, they might train a little bit differently. Today’s meeting was talking about what’s working … and everyone hearing the challenges we have and what we need more of. Do we need more counselors? Do we need more school resource officers? Do we need more funding here? 

“We know a ton of things are working like the actual training with the kids and with the staff. Educators are taught if they see something unusual with a student’s behavior to report it to administration. That’s why school counselors are involved. We know the ‘OK2SAY,’ the online reporting system to the state of Michigan, the number of threats that were called in last year went up by 67%. We know kids are talking. We know kids are reporting,” Dwojakowski said. “We have access to school cameras that I can pull up right at my front desk. During any kind of active assailant event, I can pull up those cameras to any single school in Warren Con and Utica Schools at my front desk.”

While the subject of arming teachers with firearms came up during the press conference, Dwojakowski said it was not discussed during the meeting. He shared his thoughts on the topic.

“The problem becomes, you arm a bunch of teachers. Who does the training? What is the certification? And now you’ve introduced so many weapons to that school,” Dwojakowski said. “We know stories from other districts throughout the country of a teacher that carries a weapon to school, or even a security guard, and (leaves) a gun in a bathroom stall. So now you have a loaded gun in a bathroom stall. So arming teachers, that isn’t going to stop things. Is it a possible conversation? Possibly for some districts.”

Livernois offered tips regarding how to speak to students who are anxious about returning to school, especially after the Oxford High School shooting in Oxford in November 2021 and the shooting tragedy at Robb Elementary School in May 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. 

“Much of our crisis plans — whether it’s an active shooter in a school or even something like a chemical spill — comes with an age-appropriate explanation for the children. When you consider any kind of tragedy or world event, I found that talking to children about the people who are helping gives them a sense of control that makes their return to wherever it is that much easier,” Livernois said. “Talk to children about all the ways that people are helping because it gives them a sense of control over something that is largely uncontrollable.”

Livernois also encourages students to tell a parent or adult they trust if they hear or see something suspicious at school. OK2SAY is one such program to report suspicious activity. With OK2SAY, anyone can report tips confidentially on criminal activities or potential harm directed at students, school employees, or schools. Call 8-555-OK2SAY (855-565-2729); text 652729 (OK2SAY); or email OK2SAY@mi.gov.

The next regional school safety summit is tentatively scheduled for early 2023.