Northern Michigan schools ask, 'What if that were us?'

·5 min read
Since the shooting in Oakland County on Nov. 30, schools across the state have closed following reports of potential threats or copycat threats.
Since the shooting in Oakland County on Nov. 30, schools across the state have closed following reports of potential threats or copycat threats.

In the wake of the Oxford High school shootings, Northern Michigan communities find themselves grappling with the question of, “What if that were us?”

School superintendents and law enforcement officials who are in charge of identifying and neutralizing potential threats to local schools are feeling the heat of their responsibility now more than ever.

“You say your prayers and hope that nothing like that ever happens under your watch, “ said Matt Stevenson, superintendent of East Jordan Public Schools. “You ask yourself, ‘What if this was us? What have we planned for? What have we trained for?'”

Since the shooting in Oakland County on Nov. 30, schools across the state have closed following reports of potential threats or copycat threats.

In Northern Michigan, a 15-year-old Cheboygan Area Schools student was arrested after a threat reported on social media closed the district on Dec. 3. The Public Schools of Petoskey also saw extra police presence at Petoskey High School on Dec. 3 after a threat was written on a bathroom stall. Boyne City and Charlevoix public schools were closed on Dec. 8 when a gun was reported missing from a student’s home.

The importance of communication between the school district and police is emphasized by officials on both sides.

Charlevoix County Sheriff Chuck Vondra urged school officials to immediately contact law enforcement to report any type of incident they might find threatening or suspicious.

“Let us figure it out,” said Vondra.

Mike Ritter, Charlevoix Public Schools superintendent, said “They (police) are the first people we call."

At Oxford High School, a school resource officer helped to apprehend the shooter.

In Charlevoix County, there is one sheriff's department officer dedicated to school safety for three school districts with the aid, and lead, of city police departments.

Sault Area Public Schools Superintendent Amy Scott-Kronemeyer is hoping for a full-time resource officer for her school district.

“We’ve been trying to get a resource officer,” said Scott-Kronemeyer.

She explained how they would normally contract that position from the city police, but due to employee shortages, they are unable to fill the position.

“It’s a human capital issue,” said Scott-Kronemeyer. “We have the funds just not the people right now.”

Charlevoix Police Chief Gerard Doan said he has a very cooperative relationship with the local school district, a sentiment echoed by East Jordan Police Chief George Lasater and Boyne City Police Chief Kevin Spate.

Charlevoix City Police Chief Gerard Doan
Charlevoix City Police Chief Gerard Doan

“In fact, we are meeting with Mike Ritter (Wednesday) in regards to their school crisis response plan," Doan said.

Vondra will also be a part of that meeting.

Boyne City Police Chief Kevin Spate said, “we work really well with our schools.”

“We are in there quite a bit, not just when there is a problem but our officers try to have lunch there regularly and walk around the halls during classes,” said Spate. "But when there is a problem, the school is really good about giving us a call right away and getting us in on the beginning of things rather than coming in too late."

Speaking of Oxford, Spate said, “It is a terrible event that I hope we never have to go through.”

East Jordan Police Chief George Lasater spoke to the Courier after just getting back from a safety plan meeting with East Jordan school officials. He said, ”We have open lines of communication with the school districts and the superintendents. The school safety plan is a living document and we are always included in its development.”

Since the Oxford High School shootings, details about warning signs and troubling behavior by the shooter has raised questions about the school administration's actions and response by the shooter's parents on the day of the incident.

More: Will Oxford Schools face legal consequences for Nov. 30 shooting? Here's what experts say.

“In the eyes of Oxford Community Schools, it was a judgment call,” according to a report from Bridge Michigan. “Fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley had been scrolling online for ammunition at school, drew a disturbing picture of a gun, a bullet and someone bleeding, and wrote that his ‘thoughts won’t stop, help me,’ and ‘the world is dead.’ But the teen also had no history of disciplinary issues at school and appeared 'calm' when he met with school counselors, according to a letter released Saturday by the Oxford superintendent."

Crumbley was not removed from school that day, and later opened fire on his classmates.

“Unfortunately, time is not always on the school’s side," said Stevenson. "We need time to assess the situation while the student is not in the school district for a period. We need that time to figure out what to do. There needs to be some understanding from kids and parents on that. There is so much at stake."

A memorial continues to grow at an entrance to Oxford High School on December 7, 2021, after an active shooter situation at Oxford High School that left four students dead and multiple others with injuries.
A memorial continues to grow at an entrance to Oxford High School on December 7, 2021, after an active shooter situation at Oxford High School that left four students dead and multiple others with injuries.

Education and law enforcement experts interviewed by Bridge said Oxford High officials had the legal right to remove Crumbley from the school based on the graphic violence in the note found by one teacher and his online search for ammunition noticed by another. But the district’s discipline policy also emphasizes that administrators are to consider expulsion or suspension as a last resort.

“You have only minutes to make a huge decision," said Stevenson. "We've been blessed where we communicate a lot with local law enforcement and they decide what stays on our plate and what they take on.

"Your heart bleeds for the families at Oxford," Stevenson added. "You say to yourself, let's make sure that doesn't happen here."

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Northern Michigan schools ask, 'What if that were us?'

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