Streetlight Detroit

Happy Back to School!

Welcome to a special edition of Streetlight Detroit focused on school safety. If you’re a parent in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, you already know that Monday is the first day of school for students. 

I’m Lori Higgins, the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. (We’re a nonprofit news organization focused on education.) I’ve been writing about schools for several decades now, and the beginning of the school year is always exciting because it’s so full of hope, fresh starts and pure enthusiasm. 

Today, Streetlight has an exclusive conversation with Alycia Meriweather, deputy superintendent of DPSCD. She talks about the mental health issues plaguing students, the root of these issues and the surprising way Detroit is outperforming the rest of the country when it comes to kids mental health. We also take a look back at the history of school bus safety. The latter is a reminder for all of us to keep our eye out for kids walking to school or waiting at bus stops. 

There are a lot of other school safety related issues I’m watching. The Detroit school district has updated its code of conduct to make it easier for school administrators to suspend students. I’m curious to see whether this newfound flexibility will improve behavior and safety in schools or whether we’ll see a big spike in discipline. Also, now that the feds are investigating a small Michigan school district for its seclusion and restraint practices — an action that followed a Detroit Free Press investigation – I’m curious about how the results of the probe will play out across the state. Finally, connecting with youth is crucial to addressing school safety issues, so I’ll be paying attention to the ways schools accomplish this.

What issues are important to you as the school year kicks off? Chalkbeat Detroit is looking for input so please take our survey and tell us your thoughts.

»the count

add up these numbers

A recent state report showed Michigan’s OK2Say program logged more than 7,400 tips in 2022, up more than 19% from the year before. As part of the program, which is aimed at improving school safety, students and school staff can confidentially report on threats, violent behavior and mental health crises. Learn how to submit a tip here.

»In these streets

Speed through key safety news

New legislation has been introduced in Michigan to strengthen the state’s child labor laws. The legislation was introduced after a New York Times investigation found several West Michigan companies were subjecting kids to unsafe conditions. (WXYZ)

The 2023 Kids Count report shows marked improvement in child poverty and lower teen birth rates across the state. Researchers credit some of the improvement to COVID pandemic-era policies that have since expired, including an expanded federal child tax credit. (The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michigan Radio)

Michigan parents are being urged to stay up to date on their children’s required vaccinations. Data show a decline in the number of schools where 90% of the kindergarten students are vaccinated. Vaccination rates for toddlers and babies are also down, and experts are concerned. (ABC12, Bridge Michigan, Detroit Free Press)

Here’s everything you need to know about how to be safe while driving on the road with school buses. (Fox 17)

»On guard

get to know the people and places that make us safer

With school back in session Monday, more than 48,000 students will be back inside a Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) building. Along with their backpacks and notebooks, these students can be carrying burdens that affect their mental health and their time at school.

Outlier Media sat down with DPSCD Deputy Superintendent Alycia Meriweather to discuss the district’s plans to support students’ mental health needs. This interview was condensed for length and clarity.

Q: What are some of the most common mental health issues for students? 

AM: We assess issues that we’re seeing with students through the universal wellness screener. All of our students in kindergarten through 12th grade take it in the fall. Students who are classified as tier two, that means they would benefit from small group counseling sessions to dig deeper into processing what’s going on. In tier three, (it) really means a more intense intervention is needed, probably individual counseling.

So interestingly, (in kids being) sad and mad as well as worried, there was actually a slight decrease last year. But you’re still looking at pretty much over half of the students in kindergarten through 5th grade. Feeling scared, that’s about 42% of our young people. 

»BOPC watch

keep an eye on Detroit’s police oversight body

We were wondering if at this week’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting we would hear more about the decision to keep two employees on “highly unusual” paid leave that had cost taxpayers about $55,000 to date. The BOPC and staff are under investigation by three separate entities. No dice. The BOPC adjourned after half an hour because there were not enough commissioners to make a quorum. The commissioners heard public comment and then apologized to the residents of Detroit. Thanks to Detroit Documenter Pamela Taylor for keeping us updated.

»Rewind: School bus safety

take a trip through time

Photo credit: Inside Creative House/iStock

Over the years, parent protests, advocacy groups and federal regulations have drastically changed a ride on the school bus. Let’s rewind and look at the ways public safety measures have shaped the bus ride to school. 

In 1973, the Detroit Free Press called out state regulators for being “indifferent” to student safety on the ride to and from school, even as the state maintained that the three fatalities and about 100 injuries the year before were lower than if those kids had been driven to school. The Center for Auto Safety reported at the time that the majority of fatal incidents involving school buses and children happened when children — most of them under age 10 — were struck by vehicles as they crossed the street to get on or off the bus.

Because the death-to-ridership ratio of fatal incidents was relatively small, the Department of Transportation believed “there [were] just too few injuries and deaths to really worry about,” according to Center for Auto Safety researcher John Hubbard. Parents and advocacy groups argued that these deaths were preventable and only basic changes were needed.

This project is brought to you by BridgeDetroit, Chalkbeat Detroit, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Metro Times, Michigan Radio, Planet Detroit, WDET 101.9 FM, WXYZ-TV and Outlier Media/Detroit Documenters.

This edition was written by Chalkbeat Detroit’s Lori Higgins, Alex Klaus of the Detroit Documenters and Outlier Media’s SaMya Overall and Sarah Alvarez. 

Lori Higgins is the Bureau Chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. Previously, she covered K-12 education for nearly two decades as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, was a reporter and editor at the Green Bay Press Gazette, and a reporter at the Manhattan Mercury.