School safety requirements deserve failing mark

Jun, 18, 2013  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.




How many parents, we wonder, are aware that the building to which they send their children for several hours every day has not been inspected for fire safety by local public safety officials?

How many understand that these buildings, where their children walk through hallways, sit in classrooms and attend classes five days every week, is not subject to local building restrictions and codes?

We were astonished to learn recently that a local charter school which has been criticized by neighbors, hasn’t been locally inspected for fire or building codes because in Michigan, the state is responsible for those inspections. State employees are also responsible for code enforcements and the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, certifying the safety of any school building.

In an effort to ensure that we had received the correct information about this and to find out a little more about it, we attempted to contact the Michigan State Fire Marshal and the Michigan State Code Enforcement office. That was an effort in futility. We are still waiting for a return call and haven’t even had the opportunity to ask our questions, much less listen to the answers.

We’re going to keep trying, but if the first revelation was surprising, the lack of response to our questions is even more curious and perplexing. The local municipal building department and the local fire chief assured us that we had been given the correct information and that these inspections are under state auspices. In fact, the local fire chief said, “We can’t even enter the buildings for a routine fire inspection without the express permission of the school principal.”

According Dr. Greg Baracy, superintendent of the Wayne-Westland School District, a school building is only inspected by the state whenever there is a renovation, remodel or addition or during initial construction. “We, however, work closely with our local fire department to ensure the safety of our students. When it comes to student safety, with us that is priority one,” Baracy told us last week.

Baracy’s attitude seems to be shared by all our local districts where fire marshals routinely take a look at schools at the invitation and urging of school administrators who work to ensure the safest classroom environment possible. Charter schools, however are businesses, run as for-profit corporations, and fire inspections after construction seem to be as rare as Rhodes scholars at those pole barn-like buildings.

In any other business, the local fire marshal can walk in just about any time to take a look around to make sure there are no frayed electrical wires, overloaded outlets, shorted out light fixtures or other fire hazards that simply seem to develop with building use over time.

We think a business that houses 500 children under the age of 13 five days a week should have to comply with higher standards than an office or shop, and should not be allowed to skirt routine safety standard inspections.

We are even more troubled by the fact that the school building in question is located in Plymouth Township where there is only a skeleton department of four firefighters on duty at any given time.

Parents obviously enrolled their children in this charter school in the hopes of providing what was touted as a better education. No matter what kind of superior curriculum is promised, we cannot believe that the risk to the safety and lives of these children was factored into that decision-making process.

We strongly believe that regular, stringent safety and fire inspections of all school buildings should be required.

|News Plymouth Michigan





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