IRON RIVER—As reports of a school shooting in Nevada were starting to circulate Oct. 21, West Iron County’s School Board discussed several security related topics during its regular monthly meeting.
The board heard about planned upgrades to its security camera system and voted to post signs that forbid guns on the school campus.
Brian Rippey, the district’s technology director, has been working on the security camera upgrade and reported on a system he examining. “It’s coming along,” he said. “I should have a better plan for you in November.”
Rippey said the system he is studying is currently used at Northern Michigan University and at the Dickinson County Sheriff’s office. “They wanted a system that would use both their old computers and their new ones,” Rippey said, “combining them into one system that can be viewed at one location.”
It would also provide better recordings that would allow facial recognition.
He said NMU is doing a complete rebuild of its security camera system as time and money allow. He recently took part in a walk-through of their system and discussed some of the changes at the university’s sports facilities. “It’s a large project. Quite impressive.”
As for the West Iron proposal, Rippey said he would have a “real specific plan” at the November meeting, including a list of materials needed. He said he also hopes to have a demo set up at that meeting “so you can see the quality of the camera.” He said he has investigated several different types of IP cameras, which are advanced from cameras that rely on coaxial cables.
The company he is studying, he said, developed both the cameras and software. He said their cameras can automatically set the lens so facial recognition can work at a distance. The hardware has a standard three-year warranty with an optional five-year warranty.
The whole project would be bid out, maybe as early as November. Rippey said he had no ballpark estimate on costs.
The district is looking at 19 additional cameras, which will join the security cameras already being used. The old recorders would be removed, and school officials would be able to monitor the cameras on monitors.
Since the signals from IP cameras would be transmitted with the phone and data signals on the school’s network, Rippey said some designing will be needed so the different kinds of data don’t overwhelm each other.
• Meanwhile, Superintendent Chris Thomson cited a change in state law as he asked for “plain, generic” signs that forbid weapons in school buildings.
Thomson said Michigan’s new Open Carry law allows people to carry rifles, shotguns or handguns in public as long as they are visible. There are no exceptions in the Open Carry law for courthouses or schools. “That’s the law.”
Over the last six months, he said, there have been two incidents in Michigan where people decided to exercise their rights under the Open Carry law, entering schools while openly carrying a weapon. One was at an athletic event at U.P. school. “That sparked a debate: What would you do?”
Thomson said he discussed the best way to handle this kind of situation with Board President Roy Polich, an attorney. A work-study student in Polich’s office researched the matter and wrote an analysis of the issue.
With that guidance, Thomson asked for the board’s authorization to post generic “no weapons allowed” signs at the main entranceways of school buildings. They will also be posted at Nelson Field ticket booths for events held there.
If the signs are posted, Thomson said, school officials would be able to ask anyone openly carrying a firearm to leave. If they do not leave, the school can ask for enforcement under the state’s trespassing statute.
“If they refuse to leave when we ask them to leave, then they are trespassing,” Thomson said. “We are tying Open Carry with trespassing.”
Polich said the concealed weapons law was amended recently, liberalizing the conditions under which people can get CCW permits, along with a list of places where concealed weapons are not allowed. But in its haste to pass the law, Polich said, the Legislature didn’t say anything about where firearms aren’t allowed under Open Carry.
“Even people who have a concealed permit can’t go on school grounds or in a courthouse with concealed,” Polich said. “But they didn’t do anything about non-concealed.”
However, people who enter public property but do not follow the rules of the board having jurisdiction are trespassing. Polich cited signs at public parks that forbid certain types of behavior.
Thomson said that with home football playoff games about to start and basketball season beginning soon, the signs should be posted. At a recent meeting, he said, area principals agreed that someone openly carrying a weapon would be creating a disturbance.
Board Member Eric Malmquist said he doesn’t see how posting signs would make the district any safer. “I personally don’t have a comfort level in posting signs that say ‘This is a weapons-free zone,’” he said.
Thomson said “weapons-free zone” is a federal law. “We have to have the ability to ask them to leave and not be open to a lawsuit.”
If the district posts the signs, Polich said, it means law enforcement can enforce them. The board approved posting “no weapons” signs on a 5-1 vote, with Malmquist opposed.
• Thomson was also authorized to have IDI of Marquette go ahead with designing renovations to the student drop-off area at Stambaugh Elementary School.
IDI had earlier done the engineering groundwork for the project.
Thomson said he wants to get the state approval process started as soon as possible. Once the state gives its OK, the project can go out for bid, “hopefully in January or February” so the construction can be done next summer.
After the old bus garage/maintenance building is removed as part of the project, a loop for bus pickup will be built nearby, separated from the elementary pickup area by a sidewalk.
There will be parking for elementary school events on the high school side of the sidewalk, including places marked for handicap access. Otherwise, no parking will be allowed during the school day.
Temporary changes were made to enlarge that area just before the start of school this fall, mainly by removing some of the old curbing. School officials said there are some chaotic times, especially when students are dropped off in the morning,
“It’s way better than it was,” said Polich, “and it’s way safer than it was.”
Board members also talked about in-road stop/yield signs, like in Wisconsin; speed display signs near the school campus, like Iron River used to use; and making a one-way loop around the school campus.