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New federal lawsuit seeks changes at Oxford schools to prevent violence

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Oxford – A group of Oxford Community Schools parents known as #change4oxford announced Friday a federal lawsuit on behalf of 20 students that aims to force the Oxford Community School District to make changes in the aftermath of the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School.

Four students were killed and seven others were wounded, including a teacher.

Unlike other lawsuits already filed by parents against the school district seeking significant financial damages, the lawsuit to be filed Friday by 20 Oxford students does not seek monetary damages but wants to “correct the district’s violations of the students’ rights to a safe and effective learning environment,” according to a news release. Toward that goal, school administrators are being asked to maintain school safety and protect students from deadly violence.

(From left) Jeff Jones, his son Griffen Jones, Lori Bourgeau and Mike Aldred, along with other Oxford High School parents and students hold a press conference at American Legion Post 108 in Oxford on Thursday, April 14, 2022. They said district officials have not done enough to address security and safety concerns in the wake of a mass shooting at the school on Nov. 30 that left four students dead and six students and a teacher wounded.

Ethan Crumbley, 16, has been charged with the shootings. His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are charged with involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors allege they bought him a handgun and provided him access to the weapon. School officials say the Crumbleys did not warn officials of its existence when they met with the parents at school the morning of the shooting and that they refused to remove him from school for counseling as suggested.

All three Crumbleys are in the Oakland County Jail awaiting trial. Ethan faces up to life in prison for alleged offenses and his parents could receive up to 15 years behind bars if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Scott Weidenfeller, one of the attorneys representing the students, said the court has the power to order the school district to enact safe practices, including training for staff and to eliminate other procedures which can put students at risk, such as not immediately removing students who are believed a danger to themselves or others without a disciplinary hearing.

Students contend the district continues to violate their right to a safe educational environment and “worse yet, the students assert that district officials engaged in a concerted cover story to deflect responsibility  for the Oxford High School shooting,” according to their news release. 

Among allegations by students is that they have been deprived of their right to a public education and will continue to be until the district undergoes a third-party review of events leading up to the shooting and implements new policies. The lawsuit alleges officials, including school administrators and counselors, acted indifferently to concerns expressed by students and parents, and the danger that Ethan Crumbley posed to other students by permitting him to remain in school.

Policy changes being sought include a retraction of all statements made in the course of the district’s cover story after the school and implementation and fully transparent independent third-party review of events leading up to the shooting. Students also want the court to order the school district to end “its practice of concealing and minimizing threats of violence” and a “practice of returning students to class when there is no disciplinary issue even when the student is suicidal and/or pose a risk to self or others. Students also want proper training of administrators and staff regarding legal searches of student belongings when a student poses a safety risk.”

Ethan Crumbley was sent back to class after his parents refused to take him out of school and to counseling. It is believed he was handed back his backpack containing the handgun used in the shooting.

Oxford School Superintendent Ken Weaver was not immediately available for comment Friday. The district recently hired a private firm to do a third-party review of events leading up to the shooting and practices at the school

Several parents of students appeared at a virtual press conference Friday and expressed their concerns.

“Not once, but three times, the school board rejected the [attorney general's] AG’s offer (to do an independent review),” said April Valentine. “Which makes me now wonder why they are working so hard to avoid the Attorney General’s help.

“Now, because of the pressure and the loud outcry from families and 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.”

Andrea Jones said she wants to know “what updates to security and policies were being done to ensure the safe return of our children to their care. The trust had been shattered and it was their duty to restore it. We continue to wait for answers and to get the policies in place that we desperately need so that another tragic event does not plague our community. We need answers to be able to fix what went wrong.”

She said students can’t be expected to learn when they are constantly in fear for their safety.

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