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Dearborn Press & Guide: SAFE forum explores hot-button issues to solve crisis of gun violence in schools

Dearborn Press & Guide: SAFE forum explores hot-button issues to solve crisis of gun violence in schools

Washington, DC, February 22, 2018
Tags: Education

With news of the most recent school shooting rocking districts across the country, the Dearborn community is creating dialogue around dealing with dangerous situations.

The SAFE Substance Abuse Coalition, along with the Dearborn Police Department and support of area elected officials, hosted a community safety forum at The University of Michigan-Dearborn on Tuesday evening.

“Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough,” SAFE Director Hassan Abdallah told the crowd.

Following the Feb. 14 massacre that left 17 people dead at a Florida school, dozens of concerned community members, parents and students attended the event to learn more about what safety measures are in place to protect their children and teachers from a possible active shooter situation.

The Dearborn Police Department and Dearborn Public Schools keep a close working relationship, with measures in place like random security checks in schools.

“We work with Dearborn Public Schools like a hand in a glove,” Police Chief Ronald Haddad said.

Thanks to grant money, he said, the department was able to go from three to seven full-time officers within the district.

“School safety is very important to us,” he said.

Haddad spoke of the importance of creating a special needs registry, too, to approach those with limited abilities differently when responding to domestic disturbances.

Mental health was often addressed by members of Tuesday’s panel, such as giving teachers mental health training and professional development to know when students are struggling with disorders or depression. They added that students’ social and emotional well-being are a focus within the district, with a team of professionals, including social workers and a variety of therapists, working with them to deal with recognizing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Panel members like U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District) emphasized the importance of the community being able to change the landscape to avoid attacks without stigmatizing mental illness.

“We need to make sure our local law enforcement have the tools they need and that the mental health community not feel threatened by this conversation,” Dingell said. “We need them to be part of the dialogue.”

Dingell said she was working with her colleagues on a bill for people to support.

“We need a bill through Congress that attacks this issue and prevents it from happening again,” she said. “Students should not be hiding in closets or having drills on what to do if there’s an active shooter.”

The idea of arming teachers was also a topic of the forum and Abdallah said it was a hot-button issue on their social media page. Panel members acknowledged that the FBI trains people to handle an active shooter with three techniques: run, fight and hide, but most spoke out against creating a battleground within the schools.

Wayne County Commissioner Gary Woronchak (D-Dearborn) called it “a very emotional reaction to an unthinkable action.”

“When it comes to arming teachers and training them to be fighters, frankly, we don’t pay them enough,” he said. “It might be an overreaction. You don’t want a two-way fire fight going.”

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) said classroom should be a place that instills education, inspiration and camaraderie.

“We are sending our kids to school, not to prison,” he said.

Hammoud advocated for stricter gun control – another controversial issue embedded in the fight to end school shootings.

“We have to get a lot of these guns off the streets,” he said. “In the state of Michigan, there’s 11 million guns. There aren’t even 10 million residents.”

Hammoud added that he’s “yet to hear a strong argument” for having assault rifles.

Officials on the panel said violent crimes have dropped around Wayne County, but that an active shooter situation happening every couple months challenges community members to feel safe.

Abdallah stressed the importance of building partnerships within the schools and creating an environment of transparency and communication to solve the crisis of school violence.

“It’s conversations like what we are having today,” he said. “You should all leave here feeling more empowered to help someone in need.”

Dingell also echoed the importance of community members speaking out, creating dialogue and sharing their views with their elected officials.

“What do people need to feel safe, what tools does law enforcement need, and what market changes need to happen with the sale of firearms,” she said. “I’m in listening mode.”

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