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Michigan lawmakers plan to offer real solutions to protect students from violence

Posted at 2:44 PM, Jan 06, 2022

(WXYZ) — On Friday, a special Michigan House task force will start to look at how to make our kids and our schools safer spurred by the deadly Oxford High School shooting on Nov. 30. Four students were killed and seven others injured, including a teacher.

Eight Michigan House members from both political parties will look at security, mental health, staffing, funding. They will want to hear from all stakeholders, experts and you.

The first meeting Friday will set the agenda. With COVID, they will meet virtually. It will start out and may stay, closed, private. They say, that may actually allow more candid participation.

"I think to some degree, we're going to be building the plane as we run," said State Rep. Ranjeev Puri, D-Canton.

Republican co-chair of the task force from West Michigan State Rep. Luke Meerman says, "It is something that's been on my heart for a while just school mental health in general."

And Republican State Rep. Pamela Hornberger says, "immediately we heard the cries for gun control, right. And it's the issues about guns. And as soon as it happened, we knew that would happen. And it's not something we can avoid."

All three of them are coming in with agendas.

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"We'd be remiss if we didn't talk about COVID, the labor shortage that's affecting schools right now, you know, the politicalization of vaccines and wearing masks and schools and what's being taught in schools," said Rep. Puri.

But don’t think this will turn into a free for all.

"Some things on the far left and on the far right are not going to get done. But there are things that we can accomplish, I think specifically in the mental health world," said Rep. Meerman.

Oxford is just the latest American school shooting in more than 2 decades. Many best practices have been written and revised over the years.

The eight task force members were picked by the House speaker to get results.

National Center for Education Statistics

"It is, you know, no secret that it's a pretty divisive time in our political arenas, and so we need to hopefully try to put the political theater beside and come together with just common sense ideas that everyone can agree on," said Rep. Puri.

On December 14, the Oxford school board held the one and only public meeting and got an earful from angry parents.

Shane Gibson told us for this report he and other parents are still angry about a lack of information from school officials. He says clear backpacks now required, won’t solve problems

Metal detectors, he says are a no-brainer.

"But at the other at the other end of the spectrum, you can't have people complaining that now the kids are waiting in line to get in school, right? So I fear it will never make anyone happy. But if it makes people safer, I'm all for it," said Rep. Hornberger.

Pamela Hornberger is a 23-year teacher, and former L'Anse Creuse school board member before she was elected to the State House.

"I think Oxford was actually one of the schools who spent money on some devices that were used to better barricade and lock doors," said Rep. Hornberger.

The day of the shooting still has major open questions. The evidence is 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley drew this picture that was photographed by a teacher who alerted the office. Ethan’s parents were called to the school but refused to take him home.He was returned to class. A couple of hours later, school surveillance video shows Ethan doing the mass shooting.

On that drawing: A gun, the words "the thoughts won't stop. Help me.", a student shot twice, a bullet, the words "blood everywhere," and "my life is useless," and a laughing face.

"As far as second-guessing the decisions that were made at Oxford, I am never going to do that because, you know, I wasn't there and I don't know what happened, but it is it is something that we need to think about," said Rep. Hornberger.

Gibson says what school officials did, needs to come out through a legal due process.

"We can't expect school counselors who are stretched really thin, you know, doing testing and scheduling and everything else they're expected to do to actually be able to form relationships with kids, where students are comfortable enough to continue coming to them, you know, for ongoing discussions in mental health help," said Rep. Hornberger.

The task force co-chair says this issue will get a lot of attention and possibly the first action.

"I for sure don't want this task force to, you know, throw some things out there that just make everybody feel good. And, you know, we as legislators pretend that we're doing something. That's not what we're after," said Rep. Meerman. "There are things emotionally that I've struggled with. And so I do think identify with with people that have mental health struggles."

The work may go several months and they say, will result in bi-partisan bills to go to the governor. They will also set up a system to hear from everyone, including you.