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Okemos superintendent reflects on fake threats, how the district is moving forward

Okemos High School
Posted at 9:38 PM, Feb 09, 2023

OKEMOS, Mich. — All is calm at Okemos High School as students and staff work on getting back to normal after the school was placed on lockdown Tuesday following a fake threat that impacted multiple schools across the state.

Okemos Public Schools Superintendent John Hood was out in the district Tuesday morning, and even before he got the call about a potential active shooter at the high school, he knew something was wrong.

“As I was passing Bennett Woods [Elementary] and approaching the roundabout, I saw a Meridian Township Police car approached me and turn up the roundabout towards Okemos High School, and I thought, 'Well, that's not good,'” Hood said.

And then, he got the phone call.

“[Meridian Township Police] Chief [Ken] Plaga was on the other end, and he said, 'John, we have a call of an active shooter at Okemos High School,'” Hood said. “I could hear all the sirens at that time and see them kind of coming over the horizon. A lot of support and people pulling over. I did not pull over. I drove with first responders, and I showed up on scene probably within two minutes.”

When Hood arrived on scene, Meridian Township Police Department officers were already inside working through the emergency response operation plan they had laid out with the district.

“That's one of the strengths of having a great relationship with community officers is they know us, we know them, they know our buildings and can direct support pretty quickly to where it needs to be,” Hood said.

But the moments before they were able to evacuate the building were full of tension.

“We know everyone in our building is someone's baby," Hood said. "Even our, even our staff members they have moms and dads too, our first responders. So the weight of that is real.”

While sighs of relief could be let out when students were reunited with their families and police confirmed the call was a hoax, Hood said it's a lot to take in.

"I'm still processing honestly. I'm getting to the point of some anger about that,” Hood said.

Anger that someone could have made a hoax call like this and anger for what his students, staff and families are now going through.

“We plan for all the what ifs, and it's not a fun place to live. Planning for all the what ifs when we're in the business of kids and keeping kids and our staff members safe," Hood said. “From being fine to being scared to being sad to however people process that it's okay, you know, we all process it in different ways. So really trying to de-stigmatize that grief, that trauma is important for all of us. I'm going to get some mental health support as well.”

Hood said he's thankful for everyone who stepped in to help.

“For them to be able to focus on other people's kids and trust that their colleagues were keeping their kids safe," Hood said. "It’s just there's no words for that feeling.”

It's about providing support to those who need it.

“Intermediate School District has played a key role in helping us coordinate that response," Hood said. "So our own people, our own counselors and social workers can get the support they need, and not be providing therapy when they're part of the traumatic event themselves.”

Hood said they're going to use this as a learning opportunity.

“We're going to make sure we share our learnings with other local superintendents and their principals and other law enforcement agencies because what we have here is a terrific opportunity to learn, where no one was hurt, physically hurt, and that's a responsibility and opportunity we're not going to miss,” Hood said.

As classes resumed Thursday, Hood said it's about getting back to a routine.

“We've looked at our attendance today, it's a pretty normal day in Okemos schools for attendance," Hood said. "So that's a point of pride here as well, but again, if parents had kept their kids out for an extra day because they needed it, we certainly respect that choice and decision.”

Hood said he wants to remind the community that keeping the students and staff safe in instances like this is their first priority and communication will come as soon as they can provide accurate information.

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