MEA VP urges House to take action to prevent school violence

MEA Vice President Nancy Strachan urged members of the state House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday to pass the Student Safety Act, which would provide students with modern methods to anonymously report threats to school safety.

“School safety is one of the most pressing issues facing our schools today,” Strachan said during her testimony in support of Senate Bill 374, which unanimously passed the Senate in June and has since sat in the House Appropriations Committee. “Teachers and education support professionals can’t help students reach their full academic potential without a safe environment in which they can learn.”

School violence rarely happens without warning, Strachan said, pointing to statistics from the U.S. Secret Service showing that 93 percent of school shooters exhibit “concerning behavior” to others prior to their attacks.

Introduced by state Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, the Student Safety Act would create a comprehensive communications infrastructure that would provide students, school employees and parents with a way to anonymously submit tips to law enforcement and school administrators about threats to school safety. By allowing tipsters to discreetly submit information over the phone, online or via text message 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the “OK-2-SAY” program would help head off threats like school violence, bullying, intimidation, self-harm and harassment.

“This is an easy question,” Michigan PTA Executive Director Sandra York told lawmakers.

“We are responsible as adults for making the changes that are necessary to keep our children secure,” York said to the panel. “Please, take action before one more child is injured or one more child is lost to their family and friends forever.”

A similar program in Colorado has been hugely successful since its launch following the Columbine shootings. Since 2004, Colorado’s program has taken in more than 8,000 tips, and has aided in the prevention of 266 school attacks, according to officials in that state. It has also resolved at least 890 planned suicides, 1,636 bullying instances, 442 sexual offenses and 275 weapon reports, according to officials.

The Student Safety Act is endorsed by a bipartisan coalition of the state’s top education and public safety leaders, including MEA, the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, the Michigan Parent Teacher Association, the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Association of School Administrators, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, the Michigan Sheriffs Association and many more.

Also supporting the bill is Kevin Epling, the father of a 14-year-old honor roll student from East Lansing who killed himself in 2002 after being the victim of bullying. Epling was the leading advocate for “Matt’s Safe School Law,” which requires school districts to develop policies and procedures to address bullying.

Epling said people knew that his son was being bullied, but “no one chose to do anything.” He said the Student Safety Act would be a vital component in protecting kids.

“We know there are kids that need our help today,” Epling said. “We need to give them a tool that’s theirs.”

“We will save lives,” he said. “That’s what we’re talking about — saving lives.”