Superintendent coffee hour tackles school safety, masking and more

Huron Valley Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Salah speaks to parents during a virtual coffee hour on December 8, which was livestreamed on YouTube. The event is typically held twice a year, once in the first semester and again in the second semester.

Huron Valley Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Salah speaks to parents during a virtual coffee hour on December 8, which was livestreamed on YouTube. The event is typically held twice a year, once in the first semester and again in the second semester.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Salah touched on several hot topics within Huron Valley Schools during a coffee hour broadcast via YouTube on December 8.

He was joined by Kim Root, HVS executive director of school safety, communications and strategic initiatives.

Parents were able to submit questions in advance, and topics ran the gamut from mask mandates, cafeteria food choices, COVID protocol, social emotional health of students and active shooter training.

Copycat threats

The coffee hour came on the heels of the tragedy at Oxford High School, where four students were killed in a mass shooting at the school on November 30.

Since then, several students in Oakland County, including four from the Huron Valley School District, have been criminally charged for allegedly posting threats to stage copycat attacks like the one at Oxford High School. The threats are a mix of written, social media and verbal.

Most recently, a Milford High School student admitted to writing a threat on a restroom wall on December 7, predicting trouble at 10:30 a.m. As a result of the threat, the school had students stay home and learn remotely December 8-9.

“If you are a high school parent of a child on this call, middle school/high school is where we’re seeing these threats, please talk to your children,” Salah told viewers. “Tell them these threats are not funny. Whether they’re intended to be humorous or just to get a pause on a school environment, they won’t be tolerated. They cause too much fear and disruption.”

Salah continued to say that the threats did not have any validity and were only intended to cause disruption.

Active shooter training

Each October, HVS recognizes the third week of the month as Safety Week. During the week, age-appropriate presentations are held for students in elementary, middle and high schools. At the secondary level, this includes active shooter training for students and staff.

HVS contracted with ALICE Training three years ago, which stands for the principles of Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Since that time, the district has transitioned to a Run, Hide, Fight approach, which Root says offers the same principles but in a more streamlined and simpler approach. The method, she says, is endorsed by local police agencies, Michigan State Police, FEMA, the United States Department of Homeland Security and the United States Department of Education.

The day before the coffee hour was held, students had an early release and Root spent the day with Milford Police Detective Dan Caldwell, who is also a school resource officer assigned to schools in Milford. He offered a refresher training to each school building about Run, Hide, Fight protocols. The next phase is to work in each building to conduct scenario-based training with staff, followed by age-appropriate strategies. The learning will continue throughout the year.

“This is a commitment and something that’s part of our culture,” Root said. “So many things that we do we don’t publicize because we don’t want to tell people necessarily the tactics and strategies that we use to keep the building safe. But please know as a community we are committed to this and we have been for quite some time. It didn’t take Oxford for us to commit to safe and secure entries, and it didn’t take the Oxford tragedy for us to train our staff and practice our drills.”

When asked about the possibility of implementing a clear backpack policy for students, as well as the use of metal detectors to increase student safety, Root said it’s not a feasible solution, citing the high cost of such devices, as well as the required training and policies associated with them.

“We like relying on law enforcement to talk to us about best practices, and they do not see metal detectors as a best practice for public schools. As we have conversations about what policies, procedures and expectations to put in place, we are going to be vetting those with our local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Michigan State Police and national agencies that give us recommendations for school security.”

Social emotional health

The social emotional health of students and what the district is doing to support students, as well as plans for the future, was also a major topic of discussion.

Salah says they have lowered the ratio of counselors to students and have added social work support at every building throughout the district. Additionally, sensory rooms to help students who may be struggling with anxiety or stress are available.

“As a school district we’ve done a lot, but we continue to look at our systems and our support to help every child meet their needs where they’re at, and that means continuing to add more,” Salah said. “One thing I would ask from the listening audience, when we look at the way that schools are designed to operate, so many things continue to be added. Every time we are adding in those positions, it’s less that we can do on the academic side.”

“My call is to the legislature to get serious about supporting local school districts so that we can do those things and not have to pull dollars or resources out of classrooms to provide social emotional support. At the end of the day, that’s ultimately what we’re having to do. We’re weighing where we can take a little to put a little and we need more focused support from the legislature to do that.”

The superintendent asked parents to contact their local legislators, including State Representative Matt Maddock and Senator Jim Runestad.

Masking in schools

HVS is currently under a mask mandate following an order from the Oakland County Health Department.

“I want you to know out there…regardless of where you sit on this, we’ve asked those questions of our legal counsel and the continued legal opinion that we receive is that school districts should follow public health mandates,” Salah said.

He continued to say that as a district they have used a “common sense approach” to handling the pandemic in terms of quarantining, and continue to meet with the Oakland County Health Department weekly.

“Last year we quarantined anyone who was a close contact within six feet. This year we’ve taken a different stance in terms of quarantines, and we’ve had very few at the secondary level and elementary is on a class-by-class basis,” he said.

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