LOCS closes schools due to safety concerns in wake of OHS tragedy

Supt. Kirby details Lake Orion safety measures; counseling available for students

By Megan Kelley

Review Writer

In the days following the tragic shooting at Oxford High School that resulted in the deaths of four students, Lake Orion Community Schools, like many other districts across the State of Michigan, have taken the time to regroup and assess the best way forward.

Last Wednesday, the district held in-person schooling and after-school activities but after a rash of school-related threats across the state, LOCS canceled school for both Thursday and Friday.

Lake Orion was not alone in the closings; more than 60 school districts (which includes public, charter and parochial schools) were closed on Friday due to the threats, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said at a press conference on Thursday. Bouchard noted that he expected most districts would be back in-person on Monday.

Due to Lake Orion’s proximity to Oxford (Blanche Sims Elementary is just a five-mile trip up M-24 to Oxford High School, while Oakview Middle School is about eight miles away), it came as no surprise that the events that had taken place in Oxford had reverberated through Lake Orion as well.

“Our ties with Oxford are multiple and they transcend friendship, they transcend the rivalry that we have with them. We have within our school community a level of gracious professionalism with them and the pain that they’re feeling is just rippling through,” Birgit McQuistion, vice president of the LOCS Board of Education said during their meeting on Dec. 1.

“We lovingly refer to them as ‘North Orion’ and they lovingly refer to us as ‘South Oxford’ and we’ll take it. This week, we’re all Wildcats, we’re all bleeding a little bit blue and gold and our hearts are broken for them.”

During the meeting, board president Jim Weidman read a joint statement from the board and school district, which stated: “Lake Orion Community Schools takes precautions to keep our students safe. We will continue to remain proactive in our efforts by building relationships between staff (and) students, maintaining partnerships with local responders and practicing drills for numerous emergency scenarios.”

In the days following the meeting, communication was sent out to families and members of the community informing them of the steps LOCS has taken to help prevent such an occurrence from happening in their schools, listing their efforts as the following:

• The district currently has had three staff members trained as certified ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) trainers and all staff have participated in and are certified in ALICE training protocols. Additionally, staff were provided with a re-certification course on Friday.

• Rooms are equipped with appropriate measures to apply the ALICE protocols and each school has held multiple emergency drills throughout the first few months of this school year.

• Emergency Response Manuals were updated this school year and placed in every room in every building in the district. The district also updated its communication devices between buildings.

• All classroom doors have the ability to be secured by staff members immediately.

• Bond projects are improving the existing secure entrances at Lake Orion schools and the district will continue with those plans over the rest of the bond work.

• Part of the district’s strong ties with law enforcement include school liaison officers in the secondary-level schools, as well as partnership with the local police agencies at the elementary buildings. Contracted security personnel are also employed in multiple buildings within the district.

• Video surveillance exists extensively in and around buildings throughout the district.

• A district-wide safety assessment was conducted within each building by local law enforcement and fire.

“The safety of our students and staff is our top priority. When we return to school, you and your students will see an increased law enforcement presence and there will be additional security measures in place. While we do not divulge the specifics of security processes, please understand that we are making increased efforts and working with law enforcement in this regard,” LOCS Superintendent Ben Kirby said in the communication.

On Sunday, another communication was sent out to families informing them of the district’s plan for the week ahead.

“Through the middle and end of last week and this weekend, our administrative staff continued to work towards increased safety measures while creating the most appropriate learning environment for our students,” Kirby said. “Those efforts involved the strong relationship with our law enforcement partners, including the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the Village of Lake Orion Police. Ongoing conversations about the current environment and safety measures have helped us understand the process of law enforcement as they seek to protect our schools as well.”

This week, LOCS has shut down in-person learning at the high school level, while middle school and elementary school students are expected return to their classrooms for their regularly scheduled school days.

LOHS students are expected to have a remote check-in with their first-hour teacher on Monday, a remote half-day on Tuesday, remote late-start on Wednesday and remote full-days on Thursday and Friday. After-school activities are expected to continue as previously scheduled.

Throughout the week at the secondary level, the district explained that students may be asked verbal questions from the administrators or security personnel as they enter and there is expected to be an increased law enforcement presence at each building.

LOCS has also informed parents that the district has counseling staff available at each building with multiple support staff members for any student that needs to speak with an adult.

The district stressed the importance of conversations between families, parents and students going forward.

“The most important conversation for families to have with their students remains the topic of reporting. For secondary students, that involves understanding no attempt at humor, verbal or digital, about potential violence is acceptable and all could be prosecuted by law enforcement, especially in such an emotional and sensitive time. They can play a major role by monitoring their peers’ social media posts and verbal conversations, sharing any concerns immediately with law enforcement (by using the confidential reporting tool OK2Say or contacting the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office at 248-858-4911 or emailing OCSO@oakgov.com.) All of these conversations and processes are essential in keeping our schools as safe as possible,” Kirby said.

“The healing process for our Oxford neighbors will continue indefinitely and our district and staff continue to look for ways to help support their grief,” Kirby said. “We understand this week will be challenging for many in our community as the memorials continue and our staff will grant grace and understanding to all individuals who continue to process their emotions.”

 

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