Anxiety following the Oxford shooting leads to increasing safety procedures
By: Elise Wagner
Junior Sydney Herrmann texts her friends and discusses the mood at school on Thursday, December 2, following the shooting at Oxford High School. “I was petrified. It was eerily quiet. Everyone was still in shock from what had happened the day prior. While walking through the halls, everyone was looking at each other with a distrustful and scared look on their faces as if they were prepared for the worst from anyone at any time,” Herrmann said.
“The entire building felt heavy and eerie. I can’t even remember if I’ve ever felt this way at school before. I was suddenly very aware of my surroundings, who I walked past, the random sounds from the hallway- like I’ve never been before.”
Junior Hayley Bedell recalls back to December 2, 2021, following the Oxford High School shooting that took place just days before. Masses of students rushed home from school throughout the duration of the day. Many individuals, such as Bedell, can remember the feelings of paranoia circulating throughout the school.
“Life on campus was definitely unsettling. I felt very uncertain and anxious,” Bedell said.
These feelings of fearfulness seemed to carry over from school to home as parents, such as Bedell's, were reluctant to send their children back.
The audio message is from a concerned mother, Maria Herrmann, when she found out that schools in Oakland County were closed due to the Oxford Shooting but Groves continued to stay open. Herrmann allows her daughter to leave school if she feels unsafe.
“These conversations were incredibly weighted and emotional, especially with my mom being an elementary educator in Bloomfield Hills. Her district had closed due to copycat threats- at the same time, BPS stayed open. That further intensified any present anxieties in my family, and begged the question, ‘do we keep the kids home?’ and, ‘what is best for the kids and their mental health?” Bedell said.
There were two different approaches on how best to keep kids safe following the Oxford shooting. Bedell’s parents relieved Bedell’s fear by keeping her home, while teacher Laura Sheckell brought her kids to school with her.
Sheckell showed her innate parental instincts when it came to having her kids roam the school on their own.
“The only time when I brought them here that I was a little bit more hesitant was when they wanted to go to the vending machines. I was like, Oh man, I don't want them to be stuck in the hall. If something happened by themselves that would be awful. I would never have thought about it prior to the shooting. Like, oh, I have to not send them in the hallway alone” Sheckell said.
With growing concerns regarding school safety, Groves families and faculty urge more precautions and safety measures within the district.
“I’d like to see staff and students BOTH taking ALICE drills more seriously. I think a lot of the time, these practices are shrugged off as inconveniences in a teacher’s day, or jokes for students. However, we have these drills for a reason. And if the events at Oxford aren’t a wake-up call for us to take these practices seriously, then I don’t know what is. Additionally, checking IDs upon the upperclassmen’s return from lunch would be beneficial for school security, and the student body’s peace of mind,” Bedell said.
In response to a concerned community following the Oxford shooting, Groves has begun the steps to help aid safety concerns. Principle Dr. Susan Smith spoke on the security audit that took place days ago and the improvements suggested by the auditors.
“He gave us some great feedback. His findings in terms of our facilities were that we are pretty secure in terms of our security cameras are the top of the line ones,” Smith said. “He talked about he looked at our classroom doors and said actually, he called our classrooms fortresses. He said, they're the best kind of doors you can have, because they lock from the inside, right. And they're made of steel. He said, actually, the way we have the setup is the safest it can be.”
Smith assured that the physical establishment of Groves is up to par. Per the auditors' suggestions, the school has pivoted its attention to personnel and security around the school.
“He had some feedback for us about how we use our personnel, as well as, the precautions that need to be taken before an incident happens. He said to just keep training. Talk about that pre concerning signs in students and staff that you see. If you have a student in class that you're worried about, knowing the procedures of what to do so we can get things handled safely,” Smith said.
Personnel at school was also a worry for Smith when she completed her own personal run-through of the school.
“Personnel concerned me when I entered the school as principal. How we’re manning our doors with non-Birmingham Public School employees. And we were having different people every day. Some of our guards are people who have had no school training and have no loyalty to our building. And I'm trusting them to manage or to keep my kids safe. It didn't sit well with me. So we've done a lot of discussions around it. Is there something better out there for the money we pay? School safety companies? I'd rather not pay someone to be security who does not have school training and rather contract with groups that are their specialty. So that was something I was pushing the district to take a look at. It just makes sense to me,” Smith said.
Jason Ross from Secure Education Consultants, the auditing company that ran through Birmingham Public Schools, said at the district board meeting, Security officers are also serving a larger purpose which is establishing relationships with kids, establishing relationships with staff because those relationships generally lead to a better school safety climate,” Ross said.
Along with an increased need for security officers, staff urges the increased need for group awareness and effort. The hope is that by being more mindful of potential threats that the school will be more equipped to handle.
“We are revamping our processes around what's called a threat assessment. So if there is concerning behavior from a student, we are shoring up our processes around the next steps, right, like we can recognize there's this concern, what do you you know, what do you do from there? So we're adopting a district-wide process and form that you would complete and the best part about that is it it's a team approach to it,” Smith said.
Smith says that adopting a district-wide approach will play into the team effort in the school to improve how to prepare for the future. Sheckell also commented on how she believes being secure in the prospect of something happening might allow students and staff to feel more comfortable in school moving forward.
“I think just being aware of what we could do to protect ourselves and take action, like, there's 30 of us, like, I may not be able to take someone down myself. But if I grab somebody's arm, and someone else grabs their legs, and somebody else tackles them from behind, like, we've got this, like, we're a lot more empowered than being a victim in the corner waiting for somebody to come in,” Sheckell said.
Groves administration hopes these changes will create an environment that is more secure so students can implement their training and be courageous if an unfortunate situation arises. While we are never guaranteed one hundred percent safety, Smith assures that with staff and students working together, our schools' welfare is headed in a positive direction.
“I want them to feel safe. I want people to feel, that they're safe at school, which I do feel we are right now, but I'm always gonna say can we be doing more? Is there something we could do that we're not doing? Nothing is 100% safe, but I would like to be pretty darn close,” Smith said.