GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director of Public Safety Larry Johnson spent a lot of time on the phone Wednesday morning, the day after a gunman entered a Texas elementary school and killed 19 school children and two teachers.

“I’ve been sitting in the office for most of the day, returning call after call. I’ve been returning parents’ calls,” said Johnson, who also serves as president of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers.

He told them what GRPS is doing to protect their kids and emphasizing their own role in keeping the safe.

“Parents of perpetrators and parents of students who are not involved in anything, those are the individuals who can give us information, telling us when young person is struggling that they may have connections to,” Johnson explained.

Johnson’s boss, Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby, put out a statement of reassurance to parents that their kids are safe in school and outlining the various programs and protocols the district has in place.

“I am writing to express our thoughts on yesterday’s tragedy in Uvalde, Texas and offer condolences to the scholars, families, educators, and community impacted by this tragic event. No community should ever have to endure such senseless acts of violence.

“I want to assure you that as a district, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure our schools are safe environments; our staff are well trained in trauma and crisis response; scholars and staff engage in safety drills; and we have social, emotional, and mental health supports available for our scholars and staff.

“Comprised of social workers, psychologists, counselors, and others, our district and building-based crisis response teams will be available for scholars who need support.”

GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby

Her message to parents also included links to several resources for talking to kids about school shootings.

Johnson and his colleagues across the country who are in charge of protecting school children are reviewing their safety protocols.

He says Texas is ahead of the curve when it comes to safe schools.

“A lot of mandates, a lot of training. They do a lot of things right. It just goes to show you an individual who’s prone to commit an act of violence can commit that act of violence if we don’t have some other protocols in place,” Johnson said. “The individuals in a position to make changes, both sides of the floor, need to come together in the interest of safety for our communities. But more importantly in the interest of safety for our babies.”

While he says gun control needs to be part of the discussion, the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers has in recent years refocused its efforts on identifying school children struggling with mental health and getting them help.

“The difficulty is, as the perpetrators get older and older, they’re not in a structured school environment but yet coming to a school environment,” Johnson said.

That’s where policymakers and the public need to get involved with more funding for mental health services. But just as important, Johnson said, is parents, teachers, students and others in the public recognizing when someone needs help.

“Families are in crisis and our country is in crisis, and I think we’ve really got to spend some time focusing on mental health care and mental health first aid at the early ages in life,” Johnson said.

“This is a national crisis we’re facing right now,” he added, “and we must look at this as a national crisis if we’re really going to attack it the right way.”