Are Oxford High School Officials to Blame for the Recent Shooting?
Or are the parents of the Michigan school shooter at fault?
An ominous cloud of sorrow, anger, allegation, grief, regret, fear, and devastation overshadows the Oxford High School community in Oxford, Michigan.
The precious lives of four students were stolen by the hand of the alleged shooter Ethan Crumbley on Tuesday, November 30, 2021. This 15-year-old enrolled at that school is also accused of injuring six additional students along with one teacher.
The major details and timeline of this troubling case that began days before the shooting are highlighted below. (It must be noted that this information was obtained over time by following reports about this case on multiple media outlets on television, radio, and on social media.)
- James Crumbley, the father of Ethan bought him a gun as an early Christmas present on November 26, 2021.
- Ethan posted a picture of the gun and multiple posts about owning the gun on social media soon after he received it.
- On Monday, November 29, 2021, a teacher told school officials that Ethan was observed searching for ammunition online during class time. While the school reached out to the parents by way of telephone, they failed to respond to the call. However, instead of responding to the telephone call, Jennifer sent Ethan a text message that read “LOL. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
- Another teacher found disturbing drawings completed by Ethan on a desk that she took a picture of with her cell phone. The image was a gun that pointed to the words “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” There was a drawing of a bullet with the caption “Blood everywhere” along with the words “my life is useless…the world is dead.” According to the reports that were compiled about this case, at no time did Ethan reach out to any adult member of the school community for any type of help.
- Jennifer and James Crumbley ignored warning signs that their son was dangerous and troubled when a school meeting was held at Oxford High School three hours before the shooting. At no time did the parents disclose that their son owned a gun. The parents were urged to take Ethan to receive counseling immediately but they refused to comply with the recommendation provided by the school.
- As a result of the information discussed at the conference, school officials did not believe any disciplinary consequences were warranted and sent Ethan back to class. He went on the shooting rampage at the school later in the day.
- Ethan was taken into custody after he was subdued at the school. He is being charged as an adult.
- After their whereabouts were unknown for some time, Jennifer and James Crumbley were found in a warehouse in Detroit, Michigan, and taken into custody. They are also being charged with involuntary manslaughter because of their alleged role in dreadful incidents at Oxford High School. This includes their failure to get help for Ethan or inform school personnel that he had a gun.
Here Is My Perspective
As a highly experienced teacher as well as school and district level administrator, I have a very strong opinion about the actions of the school and the parents.
My perspective is especially derived from working as a school administrator in some of the most at-risk schools imaginable. As a former public school principal, I routinely encountered students who displayed the same type of disturbing behaviors that Ethan exhibited at school and online. While my administrative responses for each case varied according to the type of infraction committed by the students, they included an immediate school removal, out-ot-school suspension, the involvement of law enforcement, parent conferences, and placement in therapeutic schools. Additionally, I made some recommendations for parents to take their offending children to a mental or behavioral health facility for an assessment. In severe cases where students displayed warning signs that categorized them as a danger to themselves and others, I got child protective services involved when parents refused to get appropriate help for their children. Many times the board of school directors became involved by authorizing an expulsion and requiring parents to secure counseling and other services for their children before their readmittance could take place after the expulsion concluded.
Student searches represented another critical function that I assumed based on reasonable suspicion and probable cause. My searches were performed while a designated school leader or faculty member witnessed them. When students were either re-admitted to school after an expulsion out-of-school suspension or if they were permitted to remain after an incident that compromised the safety of others, I conducted an immediate search. This included searching their belongings, person, and locker as well as using a security wand. In a lot of instances, I searched students involved in past incidents daily for a designated period, too. Severe cases warranted the involvement of the police. They facilitated the search during these times.
My perspective about the shooting incident at Oxford High School has also been shaped by my work as a family engagement influencer as well as being a mother.
I not only accentuate the role of parents in their child’s education in my current work, but I also emphasize the overall involvement and participation of mothers and fathers in every part of their lives.
I believe that parents must assume the primary responsibility for teaching behavior and social boundaries that result in good citizenship and self-discipline. Parents must also help their children to embrace shared family morals and values as well as those connected to living in a global society where attributes that reflect respect, honesty, justice, service, love, peace, acceptance, and goodness prevail. For many families, religious beliefs are among these attributes. Parents must also teach them to maintain a positive work ethic and to remain dedicated to sustaining a spirit of perseverance so that goals are attained.
There is another critical function of parenting that impacts a child’s destiny in life. Parents must discipline their children so that boundaries and appropriate standards of conduct to enable them to engage with others are both taught and learned. It must be noted that my perspective on discipline does not include the exclusive use of punishments in response to inappropriate things that children do because this only serves as a response to their questionable acts. Instead, discipline teaches and guides children and young people to take the correct path in life. It is the responsibility to use disciplinary strategies that reach the heart of their children, impact them for their good, and cause their behavior to stabilize and change.
As the mother of a 15-year-old daughter, I have developed individualized techniques unique to her through the years, that touch her conscience, enable her to reflect, and help her make better choices in her life. For example, when she was very young, I put her beloved blankie in timeout to give her a chance to think about what she did wrong. This also helped my young daughter think about how she needed to behave differently. And that worked for her perfectly. These days, having an open discussion about whatever she needs to change and why also works for my daughter now that she is more mature.
After paralleling my professional and personal experiences and after analyzing the facts surrounding the school shooting, my opinion about the actions of the school and the parents has been established.
I believe both entities acted erroneously. This is why.
The Response of School Administrators
Simply stated, the school failed to understand clear warning signs and respond in a manner that prioritized school safety.
1. The online search for gun ammunition conducted by Ethan and his disturbing drawings gave the school administrators probable cause to search. They should have utilized the required protocols within their school district and state of Michigan Department of Education and Michigan School Code to facilitate a search. Whether school witnesses were involved or the school staff observed the student emptying his backpack and pockets, lifting pantlegs, and removing items from his locker, an immediate search should have been conducted.
2. At some point in the investigation, the local police or school resource officer should have been notified. The school could have invited them to the parent conference. They could have initiated a search of Ethan’s backpack, person, locker. Perhaps the Crumbley home could have also been searched for an accessible weapon, too.
3. Ethan should have been placed on an immediate and initial out-of-school suspension. This would have enabled the school district to conduct a more extensive investigation so that the full range of disciplinary consequences could be taken at a formal hearing. Ethan needed to know how unacceptable it was to engage in the conduct that he did. While it is not known whether Ethan has an IEP (Individualized Education Program), the school could have adhered to the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) laws that prohibit the suspensions that students enrolled in special education programs receive. If that were the case, school officials could have facilitated a Manifestation Determination Hearing to determine if the actions of the student were connected to any disability he had. The outcome of that meeting could have resulted in an out-of-school suspension or a short or long-term placement in a therapeutic school. Regardless of the enrollment of Ethan in a general or special education program, I believe the school administration failed to utilize professional judgment because school safety should have been prioritized. (I know what it is like to be a school administrator who is required to follow special education laws while maintaining a safe school environment. And I know what it is like to be confronted with the trouble that follows for putting students, staff, and school safety above the law. Looking back on my career and the countless incidents I routinely encountered, I am not sorry that I put safety first).
4. While meeting with the parents during the conference, the school administrators should have found out if Ethan had access to a gun at home. They should have asked him as well as Jennifer and James Crumbley. This would have helped guide the disciplinary consequences administered to the student.
5. The school should have had security procedures in place so that backpacks were checked and students passed through a metal detector upon their entry into the building. This failure opened the door for Ethan to bring a semi-automatic handgun to school. With so many incidents of school violence everywhere, proactive measures should have been in place to protect students and staff members.
The Actions of the Parents
The actions of Jennifer and James Crumbley defy the definition of what it means to be decent parents.
1. It is extremely difficult to understand why a parent purchased a 9mm sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun for their 15-year-old child. However, some parents establish a rationale for their children who are minors to have a gun. Hunting represents one of these examples. Despite their reasoning for gifting their children with a gun, I believe that responsible parents should ensure that the gun remains in a highly secure location where they are only able to access it. This is my opinion even though laws do not exist in Michigan that stipulates that parents must keep their guns locked and inaccessible from their minor children. The fact that Ethan share pictures of his new gun on social media soon after it was purchased provides proof that Jennifer and James Crumbley allowed their son to have free and unlimited access to it.
2. A responsible parent responds to communications from their child’s school. While various personal and professional obligations may prevent mothers and fathers from accepting telephone calls or immediately answering text and email messages, responsible and concerned parents should respond to them promptly. Jennifer Crumbley deliberately ignored the telephone call from Ethan’s school that alerted her to her son searching for ammunition online during class time. Instead of taking this school-initiated concern seriously, she made a mockery of the message she received. Her “ LOL” (laugh out loud) text message to Ethan along with the advice she gave to him to avoid getting caught is proof that she dismissed the concern of the school. Sadly, Jennifer’s pathetic and child-like response to her son as well as turning a deaf ear to the school’s message empowered Ethan to continue on his path of planning destruction at school.
3. Armed with confidence because Jennifer endorsed his conduct, Ethan continue with the violent drawings at school. He did so because his parents failed to correct his disturbing behavior.
4. Even though a school conference was held with Jennifer, James, and Ethan, the unstoppable desire of Ethan to use his gun at school to kill was strengthened. This was affirmed when Jennifer and James failed to disclose that their son had access to a new semi-automatic handgun during the school meeting. Additionally, the parental resistance to agree to get counseling for Ethan contributed to his ability to fulfill his deadly desire. Unfortunately, Ethan freely walked out of the school conference armed not only with his gun in his backpack but armed with the ability to carry out his premeditated deadly plan.
5. Once Ethan went on his deadly shooting rampage and was taken into police custody, his parents refused to encourage him to accept responsibility for the crime that he allegedly committed. They supported Ethan as he pleaded not guilty to murder, terrorism, and all the other crimes he is accused of committing. The negligence and the denial that encompassed Jennifer and James became blatant when they were to be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Instead of turning themselves in, they fled and could not be immediately located for some time. Once they were captured and taken into custody, they, too, pleaded not guilty to their charges. So, Ethan and his parents have refused to accept any level of responsibility for what happened at Oxford High School.
The teachers who told building administration about Ethan searching for ammunition online at school and the disturbing drawings that depicted violence acted as they should have. I commend them for reporting their concerns as they were trained to do.
However, I believe that some accountability needs to rest with the school and district administration for their failures in this case.
Perhaps the response to their deficits should include more intensive training for administrators on related matters such as the importance of the search and when to administer student disciplinary consequences. Increased professional development will ensure that their response to similar reports provided by staff members or others about student ideation for violence will be proactive and reactive at the same time.
Perhaps this accountability will manifest in policy changes related to the way that school officials are required to respond to reports similar to the case of Ethan in learning environments everywhere.
Despite my opinion, it remains to be seen how or if the judicial system handles this case against Oxford High School. Regardless of the outcome, school leaders need to be put on notice that their response to similar cases had better be seamless as school safety is prioritized.
My opinion about Jennifer and James Crumbley is more concise. They represent a very poor example of what it means to be a parent. Even though these parents had the right to purchase a gun for their son, they willfully ignored the warning signs that the school informed them about Ethan being dangerous. Because Jennifer made an initial mockery of the phone call she received from the school about Ethan searching for ammunition in class and because she and James dismissed all the concerns that the school expressed, the door became wide open for their son to act on his desires.
While I am not an attorney, I believe the school and the parents are at fault for failing to prevent this atrocity. I believe that each is responsible for the weight of some of Ethan’s acts.
However, I think that Ethan must bear the greatest responsibility for his alleged premeditated deadly actions.
What is your opinion about this case?
A Time To Honor the Oxford High School Victims
A candle is lit to honor the memory of the precious lives lost at Oxford High School. This includes:
- Tate Myre, age 16
- Madisyn Baldwin, age 17
- Hana St. Juliana, age 14
- Justin Schilling, age 17
Prayers are offered for the families of those who were killed, those who were also injured during the rampage, and the beautiful students and school personnel forever changed by this cruel act committed at the school.
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This story was originally published on Medium.com in ILLUMINATION-Curated.