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In wake of Newtown tragedy, Brandon Schools security eyed



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January 16, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- After the shootings in Newtown, Ct. last month in which 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary were killed, security measures are being scrutinized at schools nationwide, including buildings here.

Threats following the Dec. 14 tragedy closed schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties. Brandon Schools remained open and Superintendent Lorrie McMahon said no threats had been received here. However, concern of parents has grown since The Citizen's recent story reporting police contact with a teenager who made threats at the Brandon Alternative High School and subsequently threatened family members with a knife.

A group of parents plan to attend the next Brandon School Board meeting, planned for 6:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 21, at central district office, 1025 S. Ortonville Road.

"On Dec. 20, I asked if there were any threats to our school before I sent my child to school and I was told, 'No,'" said Liz Waters, a mother of four children, including a kindergartener at Harvey Swanson Elementary. "It turns out there was. I know they couldn't tell me all the details, because the student is a minor, but they could have told me something. All they had to say was, 'Everything is taken care of, the boy is in custody and won't be in school.' They could have told us what happened instead of finding out two weeks later from an article in the paper."

Waters is referring to The Citizen's Jan. 5 article, "Fight over video game leads to violence, threats," which detailed police reports made on Dec. 19 and Dec. 20. According to the Dec. 19 police report, a 14-year-old boy at Brandon Alternative High School, as well as a fellow 16-year-old classmate were overheard by other students saying they "wanted to rip out and stab someone just to know what it feels like" and "a group of people are going to shoot up the school Thursday or Friday." One of the students who heard the threats made the report at the Brandon substation with his mother and was terrified to go to school.

The Dec. 20 police report was made after the 14-year-old allegedly held a knife to his father's chest and threatened to kill him. The 14-year-old was subsequently lodged at the Oakland County Children's Village.

Superintendent Lorrie McMahon and School Liaison Officer Ken Alderman said the threats in question were not credible threats, thus parents were not notified.

"If something occurs that is worth investigating, than an investigation will be done with school district officials and we will include the Oakland County Sheriff's Office," said McMahon.

"The final call on whether something is a credible threat is done by the sheriff's department…There was no credible threat determined at the alternative high school on the date in question or any other time."

Still, McMahon and the school board share parents' concerns about security at the schools and are currently considering how to use approximately $500,000 in funds left over from the $73 million bond passed by voters in 2006 for additional security measures.

Oakwood Elementary is the only building in the district in which visitors enter front doors directly into an office. Under discussion is the installation of buzzer systems, as well as reconfiguration of entryways.

"We have buildings that were built a long, long time ago," said McMahon. "We could update our facilities to be more secure in those areas. All school doors need to be locked except the front doors. We do not currently lock the front doors— we don't want to lock the parents out. Some schools put buzzers out or have mirrors to see who is coming and going, intercoms, codes on the outside. Varying security measures can be taken."

During a discussion of security measures during the Jan. 14 finance committee meeting, Board Secretary Greg Allor observed that it would be possible for strangers to file in unnoticed to the high school with students during the morning, and similar security breaches are possible at schools all over the country.

"This is taking money away from our primary mission—to educate kids," he noted. "If the government wants to underwrite all this, it's fine."

Board President Kevin McClellan added, "It's a Band-Aid for 75 percent of the school day."

McMahon acknowledged, "It's always possible anyone can get in."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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