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School board, staff weigh in on armed security

January 16, 2013 - When Oxford High School security guards Jim Rourke and Gary Chapman approached Principal Todd Dunckley last year about possibly being armed, he was "adamantly opposed."

"My comment throughout several discussions was where I felt public opinion was, where I felt Oxford was, what I thought the mindset of the sanctity of an educational setting would be (and that ) was that it wouldn't be well accepted," Dunckley said. "I didn't feel in this situation that people were ready for it. I said if things change we'll address it. I never brought it fourth."

Then the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut happened Dec. 14.

"When Sandy Hook occurred, immediately not only my own philosophy but what I watched on TV and heard on the radio, the shift was evident," Dunckley told the Oxford School board at the its Jan. 9 meeting. "It was after that I (went) to Bill (Skilling) and had a discussion (about having armed guards)."

Since coming back after Christmas break, Dunckley said he's talked to the vast majority of his staff about having armed guards and he has heard zero "no" answers given with two caveats in place. The first was that at all times it must be a police officer or people with solid experience in police work. The second was that the schools have the ability to maintain the safe zone to be in charge of who is hired and "background checks come with character, demeanor with kids and the adults in the building that they are looked at as somebody who is favorable with students."

"I had four mixed views they were mixed because they are so antigun but given the situation with those two caveats and qualifiers in place they would be in favor of the security guards wearing a concealed weapon," added Dunckley.

Dunckley said Rourke and Chapman are engrained in the community of people that students and staff trust and get along with.

"That police background is what makes these guys who they are," Dunckley said. "It's what they believe it's what they've lived and their purpose to be is protectors of others."

Rourke was former police chief of Oak Park, was on the Oak Park SWAT Team for 10 years and ran it for seven. He is also been a certified fire arms instructor through the Michigan State Police for the past 10 years. Chapman spent almost 31 years with the Detroit Police Department and did various jobs with the tactical unit and executive protection, as well as teaching security at the University of Louisville for 11 years.

"We want to protect your kids and staff, we're licensed, the state says we can do it and we're there anyways. Give us every opportunity . . . to protect your kids and staff," Rourke said. "Most of these people that do these kinds of things look for the softest target they can find. Once they know there is going to be a resistance, you greatly increase your chance that they'll (not) come. They are going to go somewhere else where it's softer."

Chapman agreed.

"The training Jim and I went through was split second decision making and making it correctly the very first time. It is knowing your target, knowing your background, knowing your bystanders. All of those things are ingrained in you throughout all of your years of carrying a weapon. It is no small responsibility; it's something that stays with you forever," he said. "When you're talking about protecting staff and protecting our kids I am very comfortable in what I have gone through in my career to offer the best protection that I can."

Board Secretary Kim Shumaker said the 1999 Columbine School shooting is what woke her up, so much that she and her family took a trip out west.

"We took our kids to the school and had a conversation with them about the reality of the world and what had happened. They have a place there at the school up on the hill behind it where they planted trees in memory of all those kids and we walked our kids by those trees and we prayed for those families, because it's reality," she said. "So rather than shield our kids from reality I think its better if we can give them assurances that we're doing what we can to protect them from some of those realities."

Though she is "not a fan of guns," Shumaker said she would rather have a way of stopping something then letting it occur.

"If you can keep it from getting down those hallways I would rather see something like that," she added. "Then to have it happen and think back and think 'gosh why was I so afraid to be safe but I wasn't afraid to be unsafe?'"

Trustee and Board Spokesman Bill Keenist told Duckley his "appraisal prior to Sandy Hook wouldn't have been well accepted and he agreed, but the board "can't worry about what is accepted, but what is right."

"Acceptance is one thing, but we have to make the right decision to protect our kids," he said. "I think that's critically important and I would ask the question should we just do the high school? I am sure they're asking that question in Sandy Hook."

Keenist said he believes a visible deterrent makes a difference on a perpetrator. Keenist, who is Senior Vice President of Communications for the Detroit Lions, recalled when there were no security checks at sporting events.

"It was a dramatic change in our culture. There is not a fan that goes to a Super Bowl or a game anywhere that doesn't welcome that because they know they're safer than they would be otherwise," Keenist added. "If we can't do everything to protect our kids and do everything to protect them we're not doing right."

Trustee Jim Reis said he's always felt it was wrong to put people in harms way without the tools to protect themselves, as he lent his support for armed guards.

"We have well trained people there, I think that's the way to go," he said. "There are crazy people in the world and I think a gun is just a tool and in the right hands it's a good tool."

Reis also agreed with Keenist that just doing the high school is "not going far enough."

"I think we should have them in elementary schools," he said. "I think we should have a deterrent and state it loud and clear that there are people there protecting our kids."

However, Board Treasurer Robert Martin was not ready to jump on the band wagon just yet. "I would have to see a whole bunch of research before I as a board member would vote to introduce deadly force into our schools, high school, middle school or elementary schools," he said.

Shumaker disagreed and said deadly force was already introduced when school shootings started happening all over the country.

"This is our response, not our introduction," she said. "I feel like they've already made the introduction; it's how do we respond to that."

Board President Colleen Shultz said there is a lot to think about, but it's not something she is opposed to.

"I have said from the very beginning since I've been on the board, you ask a parent what their number one concern is. It's safety," she said. "We all want good education, but we want our kids safe."

With research provided by Dunckley about armed security in schools as well as history of school shootings, the board will discuss the possibility of armed security further at the Jan. 23 meeting.

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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