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School Safety: Interview with Mrs. Greene-Beebe

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Mrs. Greene-Beebe conducts a Town Hall on school safety.

Mrs. Greene-Beebe conducts a Town Hall on school safety.

Mason Waldrip

Mason Waldrip

Mrs. Greene-Beebe conducts a Town Hall on school safety.

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In the wake of the Parkland Massacre (February 14, 2018) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, activist movements have emerged to encourage gun control reform in the United States Federal Government. Among them include the March for Our Lives demonstration occurring on March 24, 2018, and the National Walkout Day taking place on March 14, 2018.

In response, the school administration at UAIS coordinated with Student Voice Committee (SVC) to hold a “Town Hall” during two lunch periods to discuss a plan of action for the upcoming National Walkout Day. Mrs. Greene-Beebe, UAIS’s principal, opened the floor to discourse and prompted students to speak their minds on the topic.

Throughout the discussion, voices from multiple perspectives were present, with several students providing options for what the school should do for National Walkout Day to honor those 17 students who died and how to maintain safety.

Below is an outline plan of action for the march for both UAIS and Heritage Junior High students along with an interview with Mrs. Beebe.

  1. UAIS will conduct a walkout on March 14th for 17 minutes at 10:00 a.m.
  2. The walkout is not mandatory. No one will be forced to participate.
  3. Door 5A will be used for exiting the building. The Main Entrance will be used for re-entry.
  4. Students must wear their IDs if they plan on participating.
  5. Students must make the decision to participate in the walkout prior to March 14th. A list of student names will be created for release from the building.
  6. The walkout will be considered A-political. Respect will be shown towards the varying political positions at UAIS.
  7. Posters can be created to display a message of advocacy, but they must be approved before they can be used in the walkout. They will remain A-political.

UAIS Students offer their input for the upcoming National Walkout Day.

However, the interview consisted of more than simply a clear outline for the walkout day.  A discussion on general school safety,new school lock-down policy, and more.

See below is a condensed transcript of the interview:

Ryan – In regards to school safety as a broader topic, what is your take on the issue of it in the current climate and everything that’s going on today from Parkland to Sutherland Springs?

Mrs. Beebe – Personally I think that there’s definitely a need to revisit or tweak some of our school safety procedures. I think that as sad as it is that so many families have lost loved ones and schools are in this heightened alert every day now. Every single day. It’s a shame that it has come to lost lives, that it has ultimately led to everyone revising, revisiting, redefining what school safety is. So, to me, these are important measures that should have taken place anyway. Just the idea of making sure doors are locked, every single day. Making sure that an intruder doesn’t have free access to get to the school. My fear is that sometimes we become too comfortable, we become too lax in our environment because nothing has ever happened here. And in almost every one of these cases, you’ve heard family members or people who are a part of that school community say, “I never thought it could happen here”. When I hear that statement it almost bugs me because it can happen anywhere. We have to always be really, really prepared. I would like to think that even when you have a good plan, there’s probably something that we can do more to tweak that or to enhance it or to reiterate to students what the expectations are with regards to those safety precautions that you have, reiterate with staff. No matter how much we’ve talked about not propping doors open. We’ve had incidents where we’ve had to go and close a door that was propped open because somebody thinks in that one moment “I’m just running out to my car for a second,” or “I’m just going to leave it open so we can get a little air,” or whatever the case may be, and it only takes that one time for something terrible to happen.

Ryan – Now specifically pertaining to Utica, what are the new school policies that have been put into place because I know that we’ve had discussions in class about the new code for how we deal with lock-downs and we’ve gone from like this “lock the door, stay in the room, keep out of sight,” from what seems to be a kind of instinct, “fight-or-flight” thing, is that correct to say?

Mrs. Beebe – That is exactly it. That is exactly what we’re doing. I want to say…maybe mid-year, start of second semester maybe or maybe just before the end of semester one, we did meet with the staff about this new mindset to go into a “fight-or-flight” mentality, long before the Parkland Florida shooting. That’s something that school districts have been trying to implement over the past year or so. It was around December that we had our staff meeting and discussed with our teachers the need to not have everyone huddle in one area of the class room and hide in a corner because if a gunman gets into your room, an intruder gets into your room, basically, they come in and they go to one spot. In the past we’ve never really promoted a “fighting back” mentality. We’ve never promoted the idea that students and staff should run out of the building, flee the assailant, get away. Now, that is the big push in most schools is that if you’re in a spot where you can get out, get out. Don’t sit there and wait in a lock-down situation for someone to say that it’s clear for you to come out. I think in the wake of all of these new events and the new direction we have to be extremely clear when we have a lock-down to make sure that students and staff understand this is a drill. In the past we never said “drill”, we would say “Lock-down, lock, lights, out of sight.” Now we’re saying “This is a drill,” because we don’t want people to just flee and run [out of] the building or start tipping over desks and file cabinets. However, in the event of a true emergency, if there is a real emergency and there is an assailant, there is an intruder that is coming close to your rooms, getting close to where students are, everyone has been authorized to start throwing things. Do what you can to get away. If there is an exit closest to your class room or to where you are in the building, leave out of the building. Completely different from what we’ve done in the past. The other added measure is all staff, office staff, are being asked to have anyone who enters the building identify who they are, show their ID before they come into the building because there may be students or adults, parents, who are not allowed in our school. If we just keep buzzing everybody in, then we could be letting in someone who has explicit directions not to return to the school. Now they’re asking for the ID, they’re much more vigilant in terms of who they buzz in as opposed to just letting them in because it looks like a parent.

Ryan – So…find out why they’re coming and if they’re allowed to come before they’re in the building?

Mrs. Beebe – Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ryan – Okay.

Mrs. Beebe – We still want to be a welcoming school. I think it’s very difficult to say we’re a friendly, welcoming environment, yet we still want to be concerned about who’s coming in. Maybe some of these new procedures where people have to show their ID will deter people from just coming to the school because believe it or not, we get a lot of random visitors. Believe it or not, we get a lot of people who just kind of show up. They’re selling something, “I just want to talk to the principal.” They don’t have a meeting with me, they’ve never shared a designated product with me in advance. They just show up. “I just want an opportunity to meet with your staff about life insurance,” or about “financial planning”. Those things, it may deter some people from coming to the school who don’t really have to be here.

Ryan – Interesting. Okay. So…I would like to follow up on that and ask you do you think that the policy that is now put into place and what you’ve been talking about with buzzing people in and making sure that they’re supposed to be there before they’re let in. Do you agree with that more than the previous policy of “hide in one spot”, etc.?

UAIS and Heritage students memorialize the seventeen victims of the Parkland shooting by walking silently around the school.

Mrs. Beebe – I do. I really do. I believe that… I think that our natural instinct if to find a way out. I think that’s our natural instinct. In a sense we’ve been teaching kids and staff to do opposite of what their brain is intuitively telling them to do when they’re in a stressful situation. I think if I were in a classroom with a room full of students and I had a chance to go out of a door knowing that there is someone in the building who could potentially make it to my side of the building or down my hallway. If there’s a chance I can get out of that room with thirty kids maybe even before this new policy was implemented, I probably would’ve done it. But I think part of the rationale behind that is you didn’t know what you were coming out in the hallway to, so it was this whole idea that you’re safe in your classroom if the door is locked. Well, we also know that there’s issues sometimes the door is not locked, the teacher might’ve forgotten their key, teacher is moving from room to room so they don’t have a key to that room but they have a key to another. There are other potential slip-ups with just the idea of going in a room. There could potentially be other mishaps with just going in a room and closing the door, so I do personally agree with this new approach. If my child was in a school setting, I would hope that someone is teaching them to fight back or at least try and get out, get away from that situation. I’m never suggesting that we go toe-to-toe with a gunman that we sit there and try to fight a gunman, I mean that is not at all what the policy… that’s not a part of the recommendation. It’s that idea of throwing items, something that’s going to potentially distract this person, gives people an opportunity to get out. The gunman maybe drops his gun and he can’t get to it fast enough, I don’t know. Fortunately, I’ve never been in that type of a real situation, but we did do some mock scenarios with the staff and sure enough, it was pretty evident as everyone was throwing items at Mr. Voakes as he came into the room with this fake gun, and as he’s coming into the room, everybody is throwing stuff at him. Stuff is hitting him in the face, his glasses went flying off his face, he’s distracted, he can’t focus on anything. For those few seconds, it could preserve someone’s life if we’re able to distract this individual who has come in with a totally different plan that he was just going to come in and go to a corner and start shooting up one side of the room.

Ryan – The idea is to deter, rather than a direct response in terms of an attack against the gunman? It’s more of a get out, get out of the room, throw as much stuff as you…

Mrs. Beebe – Yeah, sure.

Ryan – Because there’s a lot of materials, I imagine, in the classroom to throw at someone.

Mrs. Beebe – Yes. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to clarify, I don’t think any of us, the police included who were a part of this training… I don’t think any one of us think that we’re going to go toe-to-toe in a school setting with a gunman when we’re armed with staplers, books, water bottles, a chair, whatever items I can grab off my desk. None of us are naïve enough to believe that we’re going to beat a gunman that way, but we do believe that if enough of that is happening and is being thrown at this individual, it could save some lives if you’re ever in that predicament…I don’t think there’s a perfect solution if a gunman gets in the building. I think we have to practice how to be safe. What we need to do to make our schools safer is still at hand, but in the grand scheme of things, I will tell parents even, “I don’t have the power to make any guarantee that even will all of our practices that someone might still get in this building.”

Ryan – Moving on to the National Walkout Day because I know that’s pressing upon us in the next couple of days.

Mrs. Beebe – Yes, yes.

Ryan – I was wondering what your take is on the National Walkout Day and the other events that are similar to it that have been declared and are starting to pop up a little more often?

Mrs. Beebe – Personally, I’m impressed with this movement the young people who have initiated this who take enough interest in their schools, in the issues that are at hand to do something about it. I think so many times we watch the news, we hear these terrible stories, and then we say “Oh my God, that’s horrible,” and then we just flip the channel and move on to the next thing. This is the first time that I think, the incidents that occurred in Parkland, Florida… I think it sparked something really, really critical that needs to happen in our schools, and I’m so impressed that it’s really happened from kids taking the approach. I believe that everybody has the right to exercise their First Amendment right, so I do see this as an exercise in free speech. I also believe that as school administrators, we have to take every single precaution to make sure that schools are safe every day, even for an even that’s as important as this. For me to just say, “Oh, everybody’s going to walk out or do whatever they want to do,” and not try to provide some structure or format for engaging with students so that everybody’s not flying off the handle and doing their own thing. I think this is the right thing to do or the right way to address it so that students still have this opportunity but we don’t want to unnecessarily inflame a situation…I don’t believe that this 14th date, that this March 14th date is really designed to get into the discussion about gun control, this really should be about memorializing those victims and everybody can agree wherever you sit on the side of the fence with regard to gun control, I think everybody can agree we need safer schools. We’re not really addressing the means by which we get there, but I think we can all say whether you’re to the right or to the left or somewhere in between, we need safer schools because this happened in our schools way too often. To me, I think it’s a great thing, and I’m so impressed that young people are at the helm of this and I think this is going to be a catalyst for years to come to make some real positive change in our schools.

Ryan – Alright, very nice. So, I was wondering as well with that whether or not Heritage is going to be arranging more of these walkout days. I know you kind of alluded to it in your answer when you said that for this one in particular, “I don’t think that it’s meant for a political stance, it’s meant to commemorate those who have passed on,” from the events in Parkland in particular. But, will Heritage be sponsoring more of these walkout days because I know there are some plans in the future as well throughout March I believe, and through April as well.

Mrs. Beebe – Here’s my take…well you say Heritage, I’m assuming you mean UAIS and Heritage as well?

Ryan – Yes.

Mrs. Beebe – First of all, let me clarify, the March 14th walk out is not a school-sponsored event. It’s not something that the school is sponsoring, but as a building administrator, I want to work in concert with our students to still provide some sort of a safe environment for getting their voices heard. I don’t think that if I sat back in my office and just said “Well, it’s 10 o’clock…yup, they’re all out there, they’re gone, oh well. This is student sanctioned, the students set it up, it’s their initiative. I’m just going to sit back here and hope nothing bad happens.” So that wouldn’t be the right approach. For me, working with our administrative staff and central office, working with our municipalities, Sterling Heights Police, making sure that they are aware – “Yes, we do have students that we believe will go out for the March 14th walkout.” Those are the kinds of things that I have been working behind the scenes to make sure we have some coverage, that we are not just sitting ducks, if you will. That’s kind of the notion. I’ve already received Emails from parents – “If you’re letting the kids go out there they’re just going to be sitting ducks!” People are already blasting that on social media. Whether students agree to the guidelines we have established or some decide to go rogue and do their own thing, then I’ve got to deal with that. I hope we don’t have kinds that are deciding to do that, but I am also prepared…that there’s a possibility some kids may have consequences as a result of them going off the beaten path and doing their own thing. So, we’re not sponsoring or promoting them in that sense.

Ryan – Okay.

Mrs. Beebe – The other side of that though is… and I’m going to kind of answer your question with a question.

Ryan – Alright.

Mrs. Beebe – We have had two-hundred-plus school shootings since 2018. All of them haven’t made the news, many of them, honestly, most of them have not made the news, but this is what they’re reporting is that there has been two-hundred of these incidents. We could potentially… and there’s only 180 school days in the school year. We could potentially have a walkout for every day. So, I believe that we have to structure these protests in a way that it cannot be disruptive to the educational process. If we did one every single day, and we’re trying to follow whatever the national platform is at that point. I see that as becoming much more difficult to manage and much more controversial from an administrative standpoint. Now I am disrupting school to the degree that how can teachers be expected to get their jobs done. How can students be expected to learn what they need to, to learn in preparation for state assessments and end of the year assessments – moving forward to the next level in their education if they’re spending all of their time protesting and walking out of school or not engaging in the classroom. I don’t think it would be a good idea to promote this for every single walkout or demonstration or protest that’s come up because I think you’re going to find some groups are not as genuine in their interests and they’re going to start just promoting, “We’re going to have a walkout on Friday! Friday walkout! Walkout Wednesday!” You know what I’m saying? I can see this turning into… for lack of a better choice of words, almost a three-ring circus if we don’t put some parameters in place. The March 24th date is designed to be much more political in its nature because it is… the focus is going to be on gun control. The Columbine date also comes with a lot of controversy the April 20th date. If we’re going to do something on that level, I personally want to see what happens this week, first. Kind of get a sense of how disruptive it could be, how much rebellion we might experience. I think it would be premature for me to look to the 20th if I haven’t experienced the 14th.

Ryan – Okay.

Mrs. Beebe –  If that makes sense, I would really like to see what happens with this because, again, this is supposed to be a seventeen-minute demonstration. If this is something that thirty-seven minutes later or forty-seven minutes later, I’m still dealing with the fallout, then I can tell you that the 20th is going to be a lot more difficult for us to maneuver.

Ryan – Okay.

Mrs. Beebe – If we do something at that time it will probably be something much more internal with maybe some presentations, assemblies, maybe speakers, that sort of thing where we’re keeping it in the building to some degree. But I just think we’re going to open a can of worms for going out for every single…to commemorate every single school shooting.

Ryan – So, there is a possibility that something will at least be done in semblance of it but not necessarily to the extent of the 14th.

Mrs. Beebe – Absolutely.

Ryan – Alright, just making that clear.

Mrs. Beebe – And then the 24th date is a Saturday, so I don’t have to worry about that.

Ryan – Oh, okay. There you go.

[Laughing]

Ryan – Let’s see… I was also wondering for the audience to get it out there a little bit more… what Heritage’s policy on students using posters is going to be? Just to clarify for them.

Mrs. Beebe – Yeah. We understand that the posters are important to a lot of kids because they see that as their voice. They’re not necessarily going to have an opportunity of everybody going round-robin and start speaking about the incidents or speaking their mind, but the poster kind of says, “Hey, this is where I stand on this.” We would like students to have that opportunity. Go ahead, create a poster that is not political in nature that supports the cause. The victims, the seventeen victims, fourteen students, three staff members, and that supports the notion of safer schools. How we go about getting those safer schools… that’s not really what we’re looking for on these particular posters. That sounds like something more for March 24th, April 20th, based on what I’ve learned so far. I would suggest that any student who wants to do a poster, go for it, but make your poster reflective of the real reason why we’re doing the March 14th date – the March 14th walkout. So, maybe seventeen victims’ names. That’s one of the ideas that someone had suggested for the poster because this is really supposed to be a solemn event to memorialize them. Maybe you have the number “17” is enough on your poster. These are just some simple things – “Hashtag enough is enough”, that was one of the things that people were saying “Enough”. “Seventeen’s too many,”, “February 14th, 2018.” Something to commemorate what happened that particular day without it becoming this political, one-sided view that…because everybody’s going to have an opinion.

Ryan – Yeah.

Mrs. Beebe – A poster by itself can really inflame. Without saying a word, you can say a lot. If you put it on your poster, if you wear it on your t-shirt, you [put] it on your bumper sticker. We want kids to be mindful of the fact that everybody’s going to be somewhere different, potentially different with their view on this and that’s really not the purpose of this seventeen-minute demonstration.

Ryan – Okay.

Mrs. Beebe – Oh, and then they have to have it approved, so they are supposed to bring the posters to the office. Myself, Mr. Voakes, Mr. Layson, we will look at the posters, look at the content, and then approve them, initial them, so that students will be able to use them.

Ryan – Okay. Great. I was also going to wonder just for some house-cleaning things, what time the walkout will occur on March 14th in particular?

Mrs. Beebe – Sure. 10:00 a.m. There will not be an announcement. The idea here is that, again, it’s a student initiative. It’s a student-led movement. At that point, my understanding is, is if a student wants to participate and walk out at 10 o’clock, they’re in the classroom, they’re in the hallway, whatever is going on at that time, they should exit at door 5A. And we’re hoping that everyone will follow that procedure so that we don’t want kids going through multiple doors, leaving doors opened, that opportunity for somebody to creep in through a door that’s unmanned because school will still be going on at this time so I’m not going to have teachers in every nook and cranny of the building where they can arm a door. If everybody’s going out one door and I know that’s where we’ve got staff who can assist or can at least be vigilant, then I think that’s another safety precaution that we can take to try to minimize any possibility of trouble. If we get to that back door and we see something crazy at that door, then we can make a call that, “Hey, this isn’t safe.” But if everybody’s leaving out of a different door, that’s going to be problematic, I can’t keep an eye on that, some folks might leave out the door and take off, head to 7-11…so that becomes much more difficult. So, that would be the plan, walk out that door 5A at 10 o’clock, we’ll have their posters there, they can pick up their posters as well and then they will start the demonstration, the walk around the building and the silence and all of that stuff.

Mrs. Yeokum
UAIS students walk arm-in-arm during the National Walkout Day.

Ryan – Okay. Lastly, I was wondering what the walkout is going to look like structure-wise. Because I know you’ve talked about posters have to be approved and they will not be political, and you can pick them up at the door, and they will be exiting through door 5A, but as far as being outside, what is it going to look like, what is it going to sound like, is it going to be quiet, is it going to be…

Mrs. Beebe – Yeah. The initial walk around the building is going to start in the back and start the walk around the building would be in silence. That period was supposed to represent the moment of silence for the victims. After that lap around the building – that won’t take seventeen minutes – the goal would be students can now start their chants, “Enough is enough”, “Seventeen lives lost,” whatever those chants are that they’re going to say that won’t necessarily take a position on gun control or anything like that. Again, we don’t want to say anything that’s going to infuriate one side or get… we want to be sensitive to everybody’s opinion at this point. The chants should be something that everybody can say and it doesn’t matter what your belief is. And then after that they will enter through the front door, that way, secretaries know who’s coming in. We’ll be standing there to accept the students as they come back in just to make sure it’s our students who are coming in and that was the whole purpose behind the idea and that’s actually a student recommendation that everybody wears their ID so we know who’s coming in are people who belong here. And then everybody just comes in and goes in through that door and they’re back into the building and resume their… the remainder of their school day.

Ryan – From that final comment I assume that the IDs will be required in order to participate in the walkout?

Mrs. Beebe – That is the plan, yes.

Ryan – Okay.

Mrs. Beebe – And it does say that in the letter that I sent out to the students and parents as well.

Ryan – Okay. Alright. Thank you very much.

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