The Michigan House School Safety Task Force shared its draft guidance for the Legislature to create safer learning environments for students.
The bipartisan group of four Democrats and four Republicans has researched and built recommendations over the last three months to prevent further school tragedies like the Oxford High School shooting.
“The root cause for so many of these is parenting or lack of parenting, but that’s not something that we can legislate or do much about," said Rep. Scott VanSingel, R-Grant. "So we’re trying to look in that realm of what can we actually impact as legislators and policy makers?”
Many of the preventative solutions come down to mental health, VanSingel, who serves as co-chair of the task force, said.
Part of Michigan's troubles with student mental health may come down to a lack of school counselors, and beyond that, a lack of funding.
"There's been, over a period of time, we haven't kept up with appropriate levels of funding, and so many schools have had to eliminate everything from librarians to nurses, and counseling support is something that many schools have found they had to cut," said Jeff Thoenes, superintendent of Comstock Public Schools.
Michigan has the second-worst student-to-counselor ratio in the nation for the 2019-2020 school year, the American School Counselor Association found.
“If the task force comes up with money to reinvigorate counseling supports, that's something that’s long-term and permanent that’s, to me, really exciting," said Thoenes. "If this is some kind of temporary band-aid approach if it's something like sending kids to local therapists, and there's only so many therapists out there, and there's too many kids - then that's worthy and that's helpful. But I don’t think that’s the best way to go.”
Preliminary solutions from the task force include reducing barriers for people to get into the school counseling field and a statewide effort to improve mental health training in schools.
The task force also suggests more funding for school-based health centers to help identify needs in students before they become threats for schools.
School administrators are well aware of the mental health concerns facing their students. More than 150 schools are currently on a waiting list to receive funding for mental health resource centers, and advocates have asked lawmakers to invest $25 million in the 2023 budget for resource center funding.
Other early recommendations from the legislative task force include more funding for camera upgrades and detection technology, updating school shooter drills, and creating and funding a statewide information sharing system.
The task force will present its final recommendations - along with bills to enact the changes - in the coming months. While there's no guarantee the Legislature will take the bills up for hearings or a vote, VanSingel says he's confident the task force's recommendations will carry weight with fellow lawmakers.