Cambensy focuses on school safety

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, center, holds a listening town hall on the topic of school safety Sunday at Marquette Senior High School. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, held a listening town hall on the topic of school safety Sunday at Marquette Senior High School. Cambensy was accompanied by a panel of speakers from law enforcement agencies and schools, as well as state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet.

The aim of the town hall was to open up dialog between school officials, law enforcement, students, lawmakers and community members.

“I wanted to give our schools and law enforcement officials kind of a platform to talk about what they’re dealing with day to day as the professionals,” Cambensy said.

She said that she hoped the forum could offer people a chance to come together about the topic of school safety and work on solving the problem.

“The idea of the forum today was to kind of get away from the gun debate and see if we can’t solve some of these issues make our schools safer, to help families have more security, to have outlets for students who feel troubled, to really kind of go down to those grassroots issues and see if we can’t start there,” Cambensy said.

While each speaker had different perspectives and ideas about how to tackle school safety, all speakers mentioned that opening up communication between all parties and working together is key to making strides in school safety.

“There’s been a lot of divide in this issue and this shouldn’t be a divided problem. There are kids from all sides and all ethnicities, religions and political ideologies being hurt and everybody has to come together and make a combined effort to fix this,” said Clara Biolo Thompson, an MSHS student who was part of the panel and helped organize the local March for Our Lives event in March.

Many speakers also mentioned that increasing funding for schools, law enforcement and mental health services on state and local levels can give communities more tools to improve school safety.

At MSHS, for example, safety is being addressed by limiting entry and exit points to the building, having a school safety officer and giving teachers panic pendants that notify law enforcement when activated in an emergency — all of these safety features required funding.

Many speakers also emphasized the importance of open communication with students regarding school safety, noting that students have valuable ideas and inside perspectives on how to improve school safety.

Biolo Thompson shared one of her ideas on how to improve school safety: “I think that school administrators and people in schools should be watching students’ social media more and what they’re posting because that is a really tell-tale sign of what is actually happening with a student’s life or how they’re feeling.”

This sentiment was echoed by Nate Dawson, a school safety officer from the Marquette City Police Department who works with MAPS, as part of his role is to investigate suspicious or threatening posts from students on social media.

“The online posting, that’s been one of the biggest things that I’ve been dealing with all year,” Dawson said.

Marquette City Police Chief Blake Rieboldt emphasized that building good relationships between school safety officers, like Dawson, and students is key, as students are a major source of information about potential school safety issues and they should feel safe reporting potential problems to officers.

“The relationship that the officer builds with the students is one of the most important relationships, I think, that we can develop … A lot of the situations that we’re dealing with in the schools are a result of information we receive from the student body and then we vigorously investigate that,” Rieboldt said.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.