Oxford Community Schools board president Donnelly resigns

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The Oxford school board president, who initially announced an independent review of Michigan's deadliest school shooting would not be conducted until criminal and civil litigation was over, resigned Wednesday.

It was not clear why Tom Donnelly, whose term ran through Dec. 31, 2024, resigned effective immediately from the elected board for Oxford Community Schools. Reached by phone Wednesday night, Donnelly, a pastor, declined to discuss the reasons behind his resignation, saying only: "Give me a day to pray and think about it." 

Oxford school board President Thomas Donnelly, Jr. talks during the Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 meeting. Donnelly resigned on Wednesday, according to an email by district Superintendent Ken Weaver.

As president, Donnelly announced on May 17 the district was proceeding with an independent investigation of the Nov. 30 mass shooting that killed four students. Six students and a teacher were wounded. A week prior, Donnelly had said district officials would not pursue a probe and drew criticism from the community.

Donnelly, as leader of the board, also declined three offers for a third-party review from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel of the shooting. Several members of the community have asked Donnelly and other board members to resign in the last 10 months in the wake of the tragedy.

Donnelly presided over Tuesday's regular board meeting at Oxford High School but did not make any statements about his position or a possible resignation.

Superintendent Ken Weaver announced the resignation Wednesday to families in an email and said the district will be providing information about the open board seat as it becomes available.

"We are very appreciative to Mr. Donnelly for his years of dedicated service. We will communicate further information in regards to the open school board position as it becomes available," the email stated.

Donnelly is pastor of Firmly Rooted Ministries in Oxford.

Tim Mullins, attorney for the district, said on Thursday the board has 30 days to fill the open seat with an appointment. If they cannot, the intermediate school district can do so, Mullins said. The board can also consider and vote on whether to hold a special election.

The school district is holding an election on Nov. 8 for three, four-year term positions beginning Jan. 1, but it is too late to add Donnelly's open seat to the November ballot, Mullins said.

Reaction from parents included a statement issued by a group of Oxford Community Schools parents and students known as #Change4Oxford, which in April publicly demanded accountability, transparency and safety from the schools.

Andrea Jones, an Oxford parent, said in the statement that the announcement brought some relief to parents and students looking to improve communications and secure policies that improve safety and accountability from the district.

"Mr. Donnelly has not been transparent with regards to the events of November 30, 2021. He often cited guidance from the district's attorney, Mr. Mullins, as the reason for his inability to communicate details about the event to the community," Jones said. "After 10 long months without answers, it is my hope that his replacement will take an active lead in beginning the healing process this community so desperately deserves."

Lori Bourgeau, another Oxford parent, said Donnelly’s resignation came 10 months too late.

As board president, Donnelly could have, Bourgeau said, insisted that qualified and experienced experts in school shootings were involved before reopening, not placed children back into the same classrooms and hallway with only fresh paint and carpets, and stood up to the lawyers, who were only interested in protecting the administration and representing insurance companies rather than Oxford students.

"In the recent months Mr. Donnelly appeared to be listening to the community, promising to change and put the families and children up front ... We thank Mr. Donnelly for recognizing his limits and stepping down. Now we must hope for someone with stronger convictions to step in and stand up and undo everything he has done or allowed to happen since 11/30," Bourgeau said.

 Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17, died in the attack at Oxford High School.