Oxford students file lawsuit seeking independent review, policy changes after mass shooting

By: - June 21, 2022 12:36 pm

Oxford High School, Dec. 3, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

A federal lawsuit filed last week by 19 Oxford High School students seeks “a fully transparent and independent third-party investigation” into the events that lead to last year’s mass shooting that left four students dead and six other students and a teacher wounded.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, names the Oxford Community School District, Superintendent Kenneth Weaver, Principal Steven Wolf, Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak, and Student Counselor Shawn Hopkins.

An email by Michigan Advance seeking comment was sent to Superintendent Weaver.

The lawsuit also requests the district undertake policy changes to increase communication and bring about greater transparency as well as “comply with the constitutional obligations to safeguard the safety of students at Oxford High School.”

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley is charged with murder and other counts for allegedly carrying out the Nov. 30, 2021 shootings that occurred when officials said he brought a handgun to school in his backpack. 

People attend a vigil downtown to honor those killed and wounded during the recent shooting at Oxford High School on December 03, 2021 in Oxford, Michigan. Four students were killed and seven others injured on November 30, when student Ethan Crumbley allegedly opened fire with a pistol at the school. Crumbley has been charged in the shooting. Today his parents were also charged. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

The gun was allegedly a gift from his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, according to police.

They have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter that were filed after officials allege they failed to secure the weapon and take reasonable actions after their son showed signs of mental distress.

Grewal Law, which is representing the students, held an online press conference Friday in which they made clear that the lawsuit is not seeking monetary damages, but instead changes that will halt what they termed the ”practice of concealing and minimizing threats of violence,” including a halt to returning students to class if they pose a danger to themselves or others.

The day of the shooting, officials said Ethan Crumbley and his parents were summoned to the school to discuss his “concerning behavior.” The parents were shown drawings made by Crumbley, including one of a handgun along with the words “the thoughts won’t stop help me,” prosecutors said. The Crumbleys were instructed to get their child into counseling within 48 hours. When they refused to take their son home, he was allowed to return to class, according to prosecutors.

Hours after his parents left the school, the teenager allegedly opened fire in the hallway, authorities said.

Speaking at the Friday press conference was April Ventline, whose son Lucas is a plaintiff in the lawsuit and was at the high school the day of the shootings.

Ventline said she and other parents initially believed the Oxford school board and administration were working to find out what went wrong that day through a third party review. However, she said it became apparent to her and others that such a truly independent review would not be forthcoming.

Ventline noted that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel offered on several occasions to conduct a third party investigation at no cost to the district, but had been turned down every time. 

“Why are they working so hard to avoid the Attorney General’s help?” she asked. “Now, because of the pressure or the loud outcry from the families and the students, the school board will be doing a third party review, but overseen by their newly hired attorney with no guarantees they will release all the findings or be transparent. My fear now is that they will use attorney client privilege to withhold pertinent information from the review. After so many miscommunications and backpedaling, I don’t have faith or trust that we will get a clear and honest review. And unfortunately, at this point in time, the only way we will get total transparency and change will be through this lawsuit.”

As a community, we want nothing more than to trust, forgive, and heal. Oxford Schools have not prioritized rebuilding that trust. There has been little to no accountability and the efforts have been inconsistent at best.

– Alicia Feltz, a parent whose daughter attends Oxford High School

Also speaking was Alicia Feltz, whose daughter Addyson will be a sophomore this fall. Feltz said there had been a breakdown in trust that began before the actual shootings. 

“Rumors and threatening behavior were essentially ignored and minimized,” said Feltz. “In the weeks leading up to that day, our children were told over the loudspeaker at the high school that the threats and rumors were not a concern and the school was safe during that time.”

Feltz said when she contacted the school to inquire about the rumors, she was told the school had been cleared of any threats. 

“This was stated, even though there had been no investigation and in turn, they desensitized and diminished the threats that walked alongside our children in the hallways,” she said. “As a community, we want nothing more than to trust, forgive, and heal. Oxford Schools have not prioritized rebuilding that trust. There has been little to no accountability and the efforts have been inconsistent at best.”

Trust was a key issue for parent Lori Bourgeau, who said there were six areas where the Oxford board and administration had failed them: accountability, integrity, commitment, collaboration, honesty, and trust.

“Those happen to be our school district’s core values,” said Borgeau. “Amazingly those six values are still on their website’s homepage. They didn’t scrub those. They probably should have, because it just highlights how often they’ve repeatedly failed those values over and over. It’s time they were held accountable. Act with integrity. Follow through on commitments. Collaborate with the community. Be honest and earn our trust back. These six failures are the reason for this lawsuit. We have tried working with them directly for 199 days. And now we will ask the courts to force this change through the court order.”

Attorney Scott Weidenfeller with Grewal Law said with the new school year only about 10 weeks away, the lawsuit is seeking to force an immediate change in how the Oxford district conducts itself.

“There are some harmful policies that are in place currently at Oxford,” said Weidenfeller. “If there’s no disciplinary issue, you can’t keep the student or send the student home. And we know historically that these shooters are male, that they’re students or former students, and that over 80% of them are suicidal at the time that these events take place. And so for the safety of all these Oxford families, and really for families around the country, it’s time for change.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.

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