January 30, 2013 - In an effort to enhance school safety and the response to potential violence, the Oxford Board of Education will allow high school security guards Jim Rourke and Gary Chapman to openly carry a gun on school premises.
OHS security guards Gary Chapman and Jim Rourke will be armed on school premises after the Oxford Board of Education voted 5-1 to allow them to openly carry guns. Photo by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
The decision came in a 5-1 vote at the Jan. 23 meeting. Board Treasurer Robert Martin was the only descending vote. Board Spokesman Bill Keenist was absent.
"I have to go on the record and say I am terribly uncomfortable with establishing the constant presence of guns in our schools," Martin said. "I don't think guns belong in our schools."
"I think guns make our students more vulnerable to violence than what they prevent," Martin added. "It's a risk without a guarantee method. That's my feeling."
Trustee Jim Reis understood that it was a hard thing for Martin and admitted that he didn't want to be at that point (of armed security) either, but he doesn't like the alternative that could happen.
"In my heart, I can't leave it up to teachers to throw themselves in front of an armed intruder," Reis said. "I just think the only defense is someone else, a good person who has a gun."
Board Secretary Kim Shumaker said "only in a perfect world would they never have a need to protect themselves."
"Human beings are going to be human beings and some of them are going to make good choices and some of them aren't," she said. "I guess I am just so much more comfortable in knowing the security guards can stop them somewhere, somehow when they make that wrong choice."
Resident Marge Evans said she was all for school security being armed as long as they went through the same training as Oakland County Sheriff's Office.
"As far as I know, OCSO is eight months of firearms training, one month of pepper spray training and one month of taser training every year," she said.
Evans also put on the table the possibility of bringing back a liaison officer from the OCSO, as well as having armed volunteers from the army reserves, firefighters, police cadets, retired officers and parents who have their CCW license (Carrying a Concealed Weapon) to walk school premises, as long as they also went through the same training as OCSO.
"I know many parents who would be willing to volunteer and presently have their CCW's (including herself) that would walk around the school grounds," she said. "Maybe you guys can do psychological background (checks), whatever it takes just to make our schools safer."
While armed security is one step toward making schools safer, Evans, who considers herself a "highly involved parent" at Clear Lake Elementary, said many of the current safety procedures and practices could also be improved upon.
For example, the walkie-talkies noon aides carry at recess have direct connection to the police, but Evans, who worked as a noon aide for a year, never knew it.
"I don't know why I don't know that, which is disturbing to me because I am there all the time," she said.
Along the same lines, Evans said there should be more staff at lunch and recess because currently there are only two aides for four classrooms. And if a lockdown at the school were to occur, Evans said she would have no idea what to do or where to take the students.
"I've been (a volunteer) there for five years. I was never trained in that and I don't know what to do," she said. "That training really needs to be implemented (for both staff and volunteers)."
Speaking of lockdowns, since the Sandy Hook tragedy happened, Evans said she has gone around to all the elementary schools and talked to students, parent volunteers and teachers, many of whom said they didn't even know how to operate their phone systems inside the classroom to call over the PA system to announce a lockdown.
"This is just from me going around asking questions because I was concerned about safety," Evans said.
She also suggested having a video camera and buzzing system to let people into the building, because the current method of having parents come through the office to sign in and out of the building is not always working as they would like it to.
"When I've covered as a secretary there (at Clear Lake) I have seen parents walk right out those the doors and not come into the office. Then I have to leave that desk and get them to come back in and sign out," she said. "(Having them at least buzz in) would be good idea."
Oxford's Technology Director Tim Throne urged the board to move forward with caution and temperance as it relates to security. Speaking as a parent, Throne said he attended a wrestling meet at an opposing school a few weeks prior and they were met with metal detectors and very few windows as they entered the building.
"I'll just say throughout the entire day I couldn't recall the number of times that our boys said, 'Man, it feels like a prison in here,'" Throne said. "On one hand, I am for security and all of that because obviously I want my kid safe too, but on the other hand if we implemented something like that I don't know if it would an environment (conducive to) learning as well."
Newest board member, Trustee Dan D'Alessandro, thought it would be important to discuss the possibility of having a school liaison officer from the OCSO.
"Just the cost associated with that as opposed to the direction we're looking at right now," D'Allessandro said.
Superintendent Dr. William Skilling said he talked with an officer from the sheriff's dept. who said they are putting together a program where schools can hire retired police officers, but they will be employed by OCSO.
"Because of what happened at Sandy Hook, they (OCSO) realize that a liaison is cost prohibitive for most districts," Skilling said. "I think the model they're putting together now makes a whole lot of sense for schools to be able to take advantage of."
"I think it would be another option for us," he added. "A real viable option that wasn't viable before to augment what we started with our own two security people."
Undersheriff Mike McCabe told the Oxford Leader that the part-time deputies would be similar to those who sit at the front desk and provide security for the Pontiac substation, district courts and the county Executive building.
"They would not be school liaison officers, but they would be deputies that would be (charged) with (school) building security and safety," he said. "The great thing for the school board and school district is they wouldn't have to worry about liability. They wouldn't have to worry about training, because we assume all of that, we do the training and we outfit them."
The cost for the deputies would be $18.50 an hour, which includes everything from equipment to uniform and all training.
"We've had a good relationship with them (Oxford Schools) in the past," McCabe said. "I know they cut the school liaison program in the past because of budget cuts, but it all boils down to priorities."
He also said they are also hoping to talk to schools about reinstating a full-time liaison officer. The price is around $126,594 for a whole year, but McCabe said Oxford could contract a deputy like the Brandon school district does for nine months at a cost of $97,000.
McCabe said they will be contacting Skilling this week hoping to set up a meeting with him along with Sgt. Scott Patterson, Oxford's substation Commander and Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn to hopefully form a partnership.
If the schools took both options of a police liaison along with the retired police officer program, McCabe said it would cost well under $200,000. The school's total budget is approximately $46 million.
"Less than one half of 1 percent of the schools total budget would give everybody peace of mind in the entire school district," he said.
As far as armed security at the high school goes, School Board President Colleen Shultz said it was a tough decision to make.
"I know it was hard and emotional for all of us. It's sad that this is the world we live in, but first and foremost is to put our kids and their safety first," Shultz said. "If this is just a little bit of a way we can keep our kids safer, I am willing to do that."
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.