Thursday, March 23, 2023

School district planning multiple safety upgrades

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools Superintendent Monica Merritt recently reassured parents of the safety measures in place at all district buildings. She said the district continues to make significant investments in a wide range of security measures on campus, including call boxes and enhanced protections at building entrances. 

“At Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, we are laser focused on the importance of helping ensure all students, teachers, staff and visitors are safe, and that means using resources innovatively, creatively and efficiently,” Merritt said. “From our community partners and elected leaders to our board of education and teachers, staff, administrators and families, all of us at P-CCS have wrapped our arms around the goal of keeping our students and staff safe.”

That commitment and district  efforts recently received a boost when the Michigan School Aid Fund for 2023 included a $1.8-million allocation for security and safety. With 16,252 students at the time the 2023 funds were allocated, the approximately $109-per-student amount represents some of the most significant recent funding for safety and security in a Michigan school district, Merritt noted in a prepared statement. 

The state funding must be used for infrastructure and operations. In Plymouth Canton, the funds will be invested in cutting-edge technology and implement new operations for each of the 25 buildings spread across the sprawling 60.5-square-mile district, explained Director of School Safety and Security Josh Meier. 

“Our No. 1 priority is to help ensure every student is safe while they're at school, in a place that is both welcoming and secure at the same time,” Meier said. “With these funds - and the leadership of Superintendent Merritt and the board of education -- we're going to enhance our security coverage in ways that can keep our students and staff safe while preserving our schools' nurturing learning environment.”

The state funds will be used for a wide range of new equipment and enhancements, including emergency call boxes for the area around Salem, Plymouth and Canton high schools; enhanced security measures at building entrances; protective glass; improved public address systems and mass notification capabilities; visitor and emergency management software and two-way radio and communications equipment upgrades.

The new equipment will enhance the capabilities of the district on-site central command center, a rarity on school district campuses, officials added. Installed in 2021 following a voter-approved bond proposal, the command center allows district security professionals to see and hear activity in any school building in real time during a safety or medical emergency. They can then coordinate with law enforcement for quicker, more precise responses, Meier explained. 

“With our command center and integrated security operation, law enforcement or medical personnel aren't walking into a situation blind,” Meier said. “At P-CCS, we provide eyes and ears, in real time, and direct first responders to an exact location in a building so we can act in a timely manner, whatever the emergency.”

Other safety enhancements that have been deployed at district schools include the recent “hiring” of Echo, a K-9 dog trained to detect firearms and explosives and provide comfort to students, teachers and staff. Echo's training comes from a $13,000 donation from Kiwanis Club of Colonial Plymouth as part of an ongoing community effort to help boost safety at Plymouth-Canton schools.

The district security and safety measures are the result of close collaboration with law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels, Merritt said. In addition to long-standing partnerships with the City of Plymouth, Canton Township and Plymouth Township police departments, district officials also work with outside agencies such as the Michigan State Police and the FBI. A recent third-party independent audit of the Plymouth-Canton district security upgrades resulted in a highly positive review, noting the district demonstrates many best practices in safety and security. 

“Thanks to these new state funds, P-CCS can enhance and expand our security coverage using technology that is discreet and unobtrusive,” said P-CCS Board of Education Vice President Lauren Christenson. “Through responsible financial stewardship of the 2020 voter-approved bond, P-CCS is making critical investments in safety and security measures that protect our students, staff and families. The allocation of an additional $1.8 million in Michigan's School Aid Fund for security enhancements will help us continue to build on the positive steps we're taking as a district to create a safe and welcoming place for students to learn and thrive.”