Chatfield School bolsters security with armed guard
LAPEER — Except for the white card emblazoned with the word “Security” taped to the back of his laptop computer, a visitor to Chatfield School might mistake Clark Arnold for a smiling, kindly grandfather waiting for one of its nearly 500 students.
The microphone clipped to his lapel suggests that he is not.
Arnold, a 32-year veteran of the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept., as well as a firearms instructor, has been hired by the 16-year-old charter school academy as the county’s first armed school security officer.
The move came after the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month that left 28 people, including the shooter dead.
On Thursday, a 16-year-old student who blasted a California high school classroom with a shotgun was targeting two classmates because he felt he’d been bullied, the local sheriff said.
One student was hit and was in critical but stable condition Thursday night, and the shooter was in custody after a teacher and the school’s campus supervisor talked him into putting his shotgun down.
In the wake of the Dec. 14 incident Chatfield, along with all the other public and private schools in the county, closed its doors early for Christmas break after a series of incidents in surrounding school districts and a wave of Internet ramblings about the Mayan calendar predictions of the end of the world ramped up anxiety among students and parents throughout the county.
Following the school closures, administrators met with law enforcement officials at the Lapeer County Intermediate School District’s Education and Technology Center in Attica Township to discuss security concerns. Later Chatfield’s co-directors Bill Kraly and Matt Young had Lapeer County Sheriff Ron Kalanquin and Lapeer Police Chief Todd Alexander tour their school and make security suggestions.
Kraly said while it was important to increase security measures at the school, it was also important to maintain as much as possible Chatfield’s open, welcoming atmosphere. “In order to learn, children need to feel safe,” said Young.
Bruce Cady, a trustee on the Chatfield Board of Directors, added, “Absolutely. The decision was made for the good of the kids. We took the wellbeing of the kids and their safety into consideration. The events that have been happening in the schools is very concerning and that’s why we took the action we did.”
Among the alternatives school administrators considered were parent volunteers and locking the front door.
Following the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in which two students shot and killed 13 people and wounded 23 others before taking their own lives, Chatfield, like most schools went to a single-point entry during school hours. The school also instituted lock-down drills.
Young said each successive school tragedy has prompted school officials to review and revise security measures at the school.
After touring the school, Kalanquin suggested they bring in Arnold, who had 13 years experience providing security at the Lapeer County Courthouse behind him. Kraly said he and Young met with Arnold and decided he was “the right fit.”
Along with bringing Arnold in, the school has increased the number of security cameras and monitors in place and added other security measures. “Some measures you will never see,” said Kraly.
So far, the men said, parents’ reaction to the new security measures have been favorable. “You can’t put a price on children’s’ safety,” said Young.
“I feel safe taking my child to school knowing that there is a professional with a long history of serving the Lapeer community protecting and monitoring my child and all the other innocent children at Chatfield School,” said one mother, who wished to remain anonymous. “Not only will it help with prevention of possible attacks on the children but it could also impact bullying, illegal substance use, and perhaps altercations between students. His presence also puts a positive view on police officers to this generation that is growing up in a crime-stricken world.”
Some parents, however, had fears that the spectacle of having an armed guard might entice someone who was perhaps mentally ill to target that specific school.
Young and Kraly were reluctant to get into specifics, but they said the school has spent under $15,000 on all of its new security measures.
One staff member who also wished to remain anonymous said she thought the armed guard is “excessive, especially when funds are continuously being cut for educational purposes, but now we are able to find funds for security purposes.”
That staffer, however, said Arnold is “very friendly and has immediately blended right in at Chatfield. I don’t think the children feel they are being guarded.”
Arnold, who describes himself as “a people person” said he’s enjoying working with students, staff and parents.
Sitting at a small table next to the main office, he politely asks everyone who enters they building why they are there. He keeps an eye on the security camera monitor and periodically checks the school grounds.
Kraly and Young are now looking for another retired police officer to fill in as a substitute when needed.