Oxford adds safety measures, renovates high school ahead of reopening

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Enhanced security measures and a district-based psychiatrist are among the changes families of the Oxford Community Schools should expect when high schoolers return for in-person classes this month for the first time following a Nov. 30 shooting rampage. 

School officials noted during a virtual town hall Thursday that future beefed-up security measures could include ammunition-sensitive dogs at schools and random sweeps in parking lots and on school buses.

The planned changes and others under review come in response to the most deadly school shooting in the country since 2018. Oxford High School sophomore Ethan Crumbley is accused of opening fire inside the high school, killing four students and wounding six others and a teacher. 

The American flag remains at half staff at Oxford High School on Thursday, December 30, 2021 for students shot and killed on the Oxford campus.

Residents, parents, and others were invited Thursday to ask questions and participate in a poll regarding their concerns ahead of the gradual return to classes next week for high school students at a different building before they return to the high school on the week of Jan. 24.

Officials touched on extensive physical renovations at the high school, including new carpeting and “calming” colors and textures that are expected to be completed by Jan. 17. Until then, high school students will renew their studies at the district’s middle school and attend remote classes by computer. High school seniors will be provided with first-semester grading options of pass-fail; grades they would have received, or an option to improve their grade.

Officials also noted extensive damage occurred along a hallway in the high school, requiring work in more than 25 classrooms.

The district is planning to host three open house opportunities for Oxford High School students and families to visit the renovated high school building together before Jan. 24. 

For two weeks, Jan. 10 through Jan. 21, Oxford High, Oxford Middle School and Bridges, its alternative high school, will be on "alternative hybrid schedules" at the middle school building, Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne wrote in a letter to families this week. 

Throne and other school leaders made it clear Thursday that the emotional and physical safety of students remained their top priority.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and Oxford Village police have committed to increasing a public safety presence at the school, officials said.

Among mental health resources in place, the school district plan to have a psychiatrist on-site at the middle school to meet with students and also travel to other schools.

Still to be addressed is what other types of security enhancements are needed. While clear backpacks are now required for middle and high school students, some parents on Thursday argued that it's not sufficient to keep a weapon from being smuggled into the school and indicated more needs to be done for school safety.

“Why are metal detectors an issue?” asked one parent, Rebecca Drisco. “It's perhaps the only way to ensure a weapon isn’t brought into school.”

Jill Lemond, assistant superintendent of student services, said Thursday the expense of metal detectors was not a consideration but rather how they are implemented at 54 entrances at the school.

Parents also inquired whether findings of an internal school investigation would be available to the public before students return to school.

Lemond said that a “blue-ribbon” group will investigate all concerns, including security procedures at the school and “what we can do better."

“The results will be communicated and we will share whatever we can,” she noted. 

The high school has been closed since the incident in which Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17, were killed.

Nearly 400 callers participated in a number of questions Thursday including how satisfied they were with the district's handling of the circumstances to date. Of those polled, 61% said they were very satisfied; 31% were somewhat satisfied, and 8% said they were not satisfied. 

When asked of their knowledge of available mental health resources at the school, 60% of responders said they were aware; 33% said they were somewhat aware and 7% said they were not aware.

Crumbley, 15, has been charged with various crimes including first-degree murder and terrorism. He is jailed without bond and has a probable cause hearing on Friday in Rochester Hills District Court. 


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