Oxford adding security measures, delaying return for high school students
Oxford — Increased safety measures are being put in place in the Oxford school district, including a permanent police presence, trauma counselors in every building, safe rooms operated by a crisis team and therapy dogs.
Meeting for the first time since a deadly shooting in their high school took the lives of four students on Nov. 30, the Oxford Board of Education on Tuesday heard how the district is adjusting operations from Jill Lemond, an assistant superintendent of student services.
Elementary and middle school classes remain closed for the week while the high school remains closed since the Nov. 30 shooting in which Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17, were killed and seven others wounded.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Tim Throne told reporters ahead of the board meeting the tentative Jan. 3 reopening for the high school is no longer realistic.
“I don’t think we are going to be able to meet that. ... We are working around the clock. The governor’s office has tried to open up some supply chains for us. … We know it’s important to get our kids back to school as soon as possible,” Throne said.
None of the safety changes required board action Tuesday night, Lemond said, because they are temporary in nature. Lemond said they are in effect this week in the elementary and middle schools, which have resumed classes, and will be in January when school resumes after winter break. She did not have an end date but added any long-term changes would require a change in school policy.
Among the changes:
• Adding an additional police presence for the "foreseeable future" beyond the school resource officer and armed security guards already in the district. The district is in the process of having a private security firm hire a security officer for every building.
• Hiring a private security firm to conduct a comprehensive security review.
• Discontinuing the use of backpacks for some time and opting for clear backpacks in the future.
• Using Gaggle and GoGuardian to monitor social media activity.
• Placing a licensed trauma counselor in each building for acute and long-term support.
• Designating and training building crisis team to operate "safe rooms."
• Using therapy dogs.
The safety update also calls for "zero tolerance" by law enforcement and school administrators. Lemond explained that the zero-tolerance policy means any student making any violent threat or creating violent imagery in school would be immediately removed from school — not suspended or expelled — and school administrators and the school resource officer would be immediately notified.
The student could only return after a third-party mental health review is completed.
“There is no room for discretion right now," Lemond told the board. "Any student who provides anything remotely violent or in any way threatening is out of school. The administration gets involved, law enforcement gets involved.”
Tuesday night provided a forum for parents to address schools officials in the first formal session since the mass shooting. Some used it as an opportunity to point a finger at the board and policies in place before the shooting.
“Who sets the example of where the complaints (about students) go?” said Lori Bourgeau, 45, an Oxford Village councilwoman and parent of an 11th-grader.
“You let it stay with the counselor and the dean of students, only. Searching for ammo. Letters, pictures of shooting and there’s no disciplinary file? That’s not OK. Don’t let a kid come in and search for ammo and go back to class. You set the tone. I wish you would have done that a month ago. You could have saved lives.”
Shane Gibson, 43, told the board his 8-year-old daughter “asked me if me sending her to school, if she was going to die. She asked me that question the other day, and to tell you my heart broke is an understatement."
“The loss of innocence for these children is the most heartbreaking,” he said. “My son and my daughter will be living with this for the rest of their lives.”
Gibson asked the board about "another loss."
"How are we going to get back to some normalcy," he said. "... How are we going to get my kids the education they deserve? Because right now, every time there’s a threat called in, they’re sent home. Every time there’s a threat called in, they don’t go to school the next day. And I’m OK with that because I want them safe. But what are we going to do as a school board, as a school district, to ensure that there’s not another loss, and that is the loss of their education, one that’s rightfully theirs?"
The decision by Oxford school staff not to remove Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old suspect accused of fatally shooting four students and wounding seven other people inside the school, just before the events of Nov. 30 has become a central point of concern among investigators and prosecutors evaluating the case.
Crumbley's behavior, drawings, online searches and internet posts had the attention of Oxford High School officials leading up to the shooting as they addressed the teen in several intervention meetings.
On the day of the shooting, one of Crumbley's teachers saw and reported to counselors graphic drawings with violent images and pleas for help, according to police and school officials.
Crumbley allegedly told counselors once he was taken to the office that his drawing was part of a video game he was designing and that he planned to pursue video game design as a career, Throne has said in a statement. Crumbley remained in the office for about 90 minutes and worked on school assignments while the school tried to reach his parents.
After speaking to parents James and Jennifer Crumbley in the school office and again to their son, Oxford school counselors concluded he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others, Throne said. His parents were informed they had 48 hours to seek counseling for their child or the school would contact Child Protective Services. They were asked to take their son home for the day, but they "flatly" refused and left without their son, Throne said.
Ultimately, counselors chose to release Crumbley from the main office into the school again on the day of the shooting — and not involve school administrators or police.
"Given the fact that the child had no prior disciplinary infractions, the decision was made he would be returned to the classroom rather than sent home to an empty house. These incidents remained at the guidance counselor level and were never elevated to the principal or assistant principal’s office," Throne has said.
A day earlier a teacher also had witnessed the teen searching for ammunition online.
Experts say Oxford school officials had other choices than to allow Crumbley to remain in the school, and most schools use a team approach — consisting of a school counselor, school administrator and a school officer — to make decisions on what to do with a student whose behavior raises safety concerns for the school.
Throne is named as one of several defendants in a $100 million lawsuit filed by two survivors that accuses school officials of failing to stop an attack that inflicted physical and psychological injuries on students.
Associated Press contributed.