New bill aims to prevent violence in schools

WHYTE, Michael James

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A new bill has been introduced by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers that would potentially improve school safety and require Michigan schools to create behavior threat assessment and management teams before the fall.

Experts have indicated that, when it comes to school safety, physical security does play a role, however that it is not the truest path to prevent violence.

“If you look at people who commit violent acts in schools, you can actually track their behaviors generally back to elementary school,” said Jason Russell, president and CEO of Secure Education Consultants.

Russell collaborates with districts across the country on ways in which schools can be safeguarded. To effectively protect students and staff, he stated that behavioral threat assessments are a critical component.

“To try to identify smaller behaviors, maybe interpersonal conflicts, trouble at home, things like that, and launch intervention strategies that hopefully take a kid off the path to violence,” Russell said.

Russell has reported that upwards of 90% of schools he works with in Michigan currently do have some sort of behavioral threat assessment process in place, however these can differ from building to building which can compromise the integrity of the intent.

“The issue we often see is there’s no exact requirement on what they need to have. So it varies in effectiveness and comprehensiveness,” Russell said.

Some lawmakers aim to put a halt to that. Last week, House Bill 5549 was introduced in Lansing, and this would then require schools to create a behavior threat assessment and management team.

Under the terms of the bill, the teams must include a school administrator, law enforcement or school resource officers, and a mental health professional.

State Representative Luke Meerman, R-Coopersville, a sponsor of the bill, referred to the shooting at Oxford High School as a reason the legislation is needed.

“When the drawing is made and there’s blood and gore, and guns, something along those lines that trigger this threat assessment, who is in the room,” Meerman said. “The school safety security officer should be in the room, in Oxford they weren’t for one reason or another.”

The bill also describes the duties of a behavioral threat assessment team, which would include monitoring concerning behavior and developing a central reporting system.

“We’re looking at the (National Threat Assessment Center) model, which is a Secret Service model. Most schools are using it already, it’s along the lines of do you have a plan in place,” Meerman said.

Russell said the legislation is long overdue and a requirement to ensure the safety of staff and students.

“I think it’s probably the best piece of school safety legislation that’s been introduced in a long time,” Russell said.

If the bill were to pass as it is currently written, these teams would need to be established by July 1. The legislation is now headed to the House Committee on Education.

— with files from


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