Opinion: Oxford prioritizes school security reforms

By Tom Donnelly, President, Oxford Community Schools Board (Detroit News, June 27, 2022)

We used to use words like “unthinkable” or “unimaginable” to describe a child’s murder. Unfortunately, tragedies in Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Oxford, Uvalde and dozens of other communities across the U.S. have forced us, not only to imagine but to live the gut-wrenching horror of the mass murder of children.

In 2021 — the year that a shooter stole the lives of Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Hana St. Juliana at Oxford High School —193 people were killed or wounded in school shootings, making it the most violent year on record for these tragedies.

Four Oxford families suffered unparalleled loss. Our community grieves and struggles to find answers. But where do we turn when the unthinkable is our new reality and the tragedy, itself, threatens to shred the ties that bind us?

As a pastor, I seek God’s peace and healing. As a school board president, I along with my colleagues must seek tangible, effective, data-driven and immediate solutions to help ensure that a horrific act like this does not happen again.

We must also find a way to help repair the ties that can — and will — hold us Oxford Strong.

Many in our community and state have questions about actions the Oxford Community Schools Board and administration have taken since the tragic shooting on November 30.

Clearly, we must do a better job sharing information about our response to this tragedy. It’s why I outlined those actions in a June 22 letter to our school community, and it’s why I’ve written this.

Starting just days after the shooting and continuing through today, the district and board have taken definitive actions to ensure the highest level of safety and to create an environment where students feel safe, supported and empowered to learn.

In December, Secure Education Consultants — a top firm in the field — launched a full examination to evaluate whether the security measures in place were appropriate and consistent with best practices.

While SEC reported that Oxford’s safety and security operations were among the best they’ve observed, they identified narrow areas for improvement, and our team has been working with them to implement those improvements.

Based on their recommendations, as well as those from a parent subcommittee and a district safety committee, the district expanded our internal security service in several ways.

The district has contracted for armed security personnel at every school building for the 2022-2023 school year. We will employ an ammunitions-detection dog at Oxford High School. And the board recently approved purchase of a district-wide mass notification system that will provide both audio and visual alerts when activated.

Plus, the district will integrate two new cutting-edge technologies that — along with other security measures — will make Oxford High School among the safest in the country.

First, we’ve begun to upgrade our cameras at the high school to employ ZeroEyes technology, an AI platform that can detect weapons and automatically reports to emergency dispatch, enabling faster response times.

Next, Oxford High School will serve as a national pilot for Evolv Express, the fastest weapons screening system on the market. The system uses AI to accurately screen 60 people every minute for threats.

The administration has bolstered its training on anonymous reporting, threat assessments, and emergency preparedness.

Finally, the board has launched an independent investigation to help us learn what led up to this tragedy, what happened immediately prior to and on the day of the shooting, and how the school responded.

The district is making all materials and information available to the investigative team, and the investigative team will provide the full investigation report to the community and the board simultaneously.

Investigators will conduct this independent review with the highest degree of professionalism, integrity and sensitivity to the trauma that many have endured.

While we continue to ask for your patience and support, the board commits to a more open line of communication that we hope brings some measure of comfort and peace.

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