A Talk with the Head of School about our Safety Protocols Following the Deadly Michigan School Shooting

By: Kareena Dua

Five minutes is enough time to change someone’s life forever. On November 30th, in Oxford Michigan, in five minutes, 30 gunshots were fired into the hallways of a school and 11 bodies fell to the ground. Hallways that were once filled with laughter, gossip, and curiosity were now filled with fear and death. The desks that supported books filled with notes, little doodles, and heads of tired students were now used as shields. The doors to classrooms, doors that invited students to learn, were used to barricade gunshots in an attempt to survive. Four kids who left their house that morning did not return as Ethan Crumbley’s hand held a gun instead of a pencil. 

As a country, we watched and mourned the innocence and the lives lost as we tallied another school shooting. It is events like these that make us as a country step back and realize all that we have to be grateful for and, at the same time, show us the possible dangers that live in the world. How could a shooting thousands of miles away affect Shorecrest? 

The shooting in Michigan was the deadliest shooting on a K-12 campus since May of 2018. As a K-12 campus, there are things from the Michigan shooting we can learn from in order to create the safest campus for Shorecrest students. Following the shooting, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Head of School Nancy Spencer and Director of Facilities Marcus Holmes regarding Shorecrest’s current safety protocols and the administration’s reaction following the Michigan shooting. 

In our conversation, Spencer and Holmes explained our current safety protocols and how they have progressed over the past few years. Spencer explained, “Something we take very seriously is the health and safety of the kids, and Shorecrest has been ahead of the curve because of this.” 

Spencer highlighted how Shorecrest was the first independent school to have armed security guards patrolling our campus. This change was facilitated by former Head of School Mike Murphy in 2014 in collaboration with security firm CIS, a firm dedicated to crisis intervention services. The firm has earned recognition for finding effective solutions for a diverse range of crises such as school violence. Spencer mentioned that one of the most important parts of Shorecrest’s security team is the connection they make to the students. We “want kids to feel that the security is on their side and to feel connected with the guards.”

There are many ways Shorecrest has encouraged connections between the security and kids at the school as they strive to make all students feel comfortable and safe. Spencer said they are very concerned about how to approach “these conversations about school safety and shootings with our younger kids without creating unnecessary anxiety.”  Jackie Coleman, a student at Shorecrest her whole life, remembers how in Lower School, the officers would play games with her and her friends and make them not only feel safe, but loved. “The two officers got to know our community and the kids of the school. Officer Heidi played games with us,” she said.

Campus security officer William Long patrolling Shorecrest (Photo by Addison Cohoon)

One unique part of Shorecrest is the range of ages that live and learn on the campus each day. There are kids as young as three years old and as old as 18 who consider Shorecrest home. This evokes a question of how to effectively explain the great tragedy of school shootings to the young kids of our community without creating unnecessary fear and anxiety. Spencer and Holmes emphasized their reliance on talented educators who have been trained to teach kids about safety in an age-appropriate way. 

This process of training teachers in school security is a very important component as there are usually certain signs that can indicate if a student is dangerous. In the Michigan shooting, for example, the day before the deadly shooting, a teacher saw Ethan Crumbley searching for ammunition for his gun. Additionally, students heard upsetting rumors. Many felt as if they were in danger and decided not to go to school that day. 

Spencer and Holmes ensured that Shorecrest would take every necessary precaution in an emergency and that there would be no hesitation to involve the St. Petersburg Police. Spencer also went further to explain there are multiple trainings required of teachers at Shorecrest, and the school is looking to start more in-person crisis response training.

This year, there has been one lockdown drill that ran into a problem. The drill took place during a community-time block, and most kids were not in a specific classroom. As the lockdown bells rang throughout the halls, students’ faces went blank and everyone rushed to the nearest classroom or adult.  According to Spencer, “the purpose of the drill was to test our communications systems to make sure the community knew it was a drill, not an actual event.” There was supposed to be a text notification sent to students to alert them of the drill, but the technology failed.

 The scariest part of the drill was the uncertainty amongst students and staff over whether it was a drill or the emergency was real. Many students’ phones filled with text messages wondering if the threat was real or fake, and some started to panic.

This element of surprise is scary, yet helpful, as it prepares students for an unpredictable situation. Holmes explained that the importance of safety drills is not only to reinforce protocols with students but also to test emergency systems for problems. He added, “There was a communication problem with this last drill, a technology glitch, that we didn’t know was there which is good and allows us to fix those issues.” 

 As scary as it is knowing that technology isn’t perfect, the reason drills are implemented is to find these mistakes in order to be prepared for a real crisis.  Spencer promised to “address this method and improve on it for the next drill.”  Spencer also said that they will definitely look into more “student-directed learning” that might make students more comfortable instead of just relying on training for educators.

The sad truth is that school shootings have become a commonality, something everyone has to worry about and be prepared for. From this conversation, it is evident that the key parts to Shorecrest’s safety procedures are communication and collaboration within and with outside resources which allow our safety protocols to progress and continue to improve. 

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