Sadly, I’ve seen my fair share of school shootings with news broadcasts as my entry point.
I can remember coming home from school my sophomore year, turning on the television and watching students from Columbine High School walk out of school as news anchor Peter Jennings shared of the tragic murders of students and faculty. I witnessed other newscasters share similar somber relaying of mass murders, particularly at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
As an educator, my heart sank to hear another broadcaster share that another high school community had lost four of its own at the hands of an active shooter at Oxford High School.
The United States — with its lack of uniform gun laws to prevent mass shootings, its refusal to no longer commodify violence as a consumer product, and its denial of the violence of the white settler colonial project that frames historical violence against first peoples and Black peoples — has willingly accepted living in the mass shooting era.
However, this school shooting seems different.
Not because the shooter is alive, nor because the shooter himself is a child. But what’s different is that the parents are facing jail time. Not only that, but this unfortunate event is a warning to school leaders, faculty members and professional staff: you too could be found culpable in a mass school shooting if you fail to do your part.
To be clear, no school employee of the Oxford High School is in legal trouble at this point. However, the Oakland County, Michigan prosecutor shared her criticism of school officials, saying:
“We know that he either had that weapon with him or someplace where he could have stored it in the school. But he had it in the school, there’s no question. And leaving the decision to parents about whether he goes home or not …”
However, Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne defended the guidance counselors who sent Ethan Crumbley back to class, saying that “the counselors made a judgment based on their professional training and clinical experience and did not have all the facts we now know.”
Here’s what I know.
If a student was sent to a guidance counselor for a concerning drawing and written statements, a day after that same student was found looking at ammunition on his phone, any meeting with parents would have involved either the assistant principal assigned to that student, the school principal or both and the student would be assigned to a crisis counselor—whether or not the parents agreed.
In this case, no administrator was present. That’s the first strike. The student was sent back to class despite the clues that crisis counseling was necessary for Crumbley. That’s the second strike. The third strike was, considering the warning signs, the failure to search the student; there was cause to believe the student may have had a gun.
I am no legal expert, but as an educator, I’ve seen schools get sued for lesser things. Certainly, administrators may be culpable, but according to the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association, the guidance counselors may not be shielded from the allegation of negligence. Therefore it’s plausible that these counselors in question, as well as administrators, could lose their jobs and or licenses.
Folks may lament all the lockdown drills, active shooter drills and shelter in-place drills, but because this country accepts living in this era, here we are. Therefore, educators must be vigilant. Otherwise, they could find themselves, as some of the educators at Oxford High School do, I would assume, consulting their union and looking for a lawyer.
Rann Miller is director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .
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