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Oxford students sue in ‘desperate attempt’ to improve safety after shooting

Oxford High School
Families of students at Oxford High School, the site of a mass shooting in November, hope a lawsuit will lead to more transparency in the investigation. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING — Twenty Oxford High School current and recently graduated students are filing a federal lawsuit against the school district in what their parents call a “desperate attempt” to force policy changes and transparency from school officials.

The lawsuit — filed almost seven months after a shooting at Oxford High School killed four students and injured seven — is at least the third against the district since the shooting.

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During a Friday press conference, parents cited growing frustration at the district’s safety practices and distrust in the Oxford school system’s response. School officials, they say, rejected offers to investigate the shooting, failed to reform safety measures and ignored their emails from parents expressing safety concerns and asking for more communications.

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“The trust had been shattered and it was their duty to restore it,” said Andrea Jones, parent of one of the plaintiffs. 

An Oxford school district spokesperson did not immediately return Bridge’s inquiry Friday.

The lawsuit comes seven months after Ethan Crumbley, 15, opened fire on his classmates after counselors allowed him back to class despite disturbing behaviors noted repeatedly by school officials, including bloody drawings, graphic notes of violence and online search for ammunition. Crumbley faces several charges of terrorism, murder and assault for the Nov. 30 shooting.

The students suing the school district argue its “unconstitutional” safety policies — which they say violated their right to a public education — “encouraged and cultivated” violence on campus, according to a draft of the lawsuit. 

They are asking the court to order a “fully transparent and independent” third-party investigation of the district’s actions, end “harmful” safety practices and establish new safety procedures, including training on legal searches and risk assessments, said Scott Weidenfeller, an attorney representing the students.

The suit does not seek monetary damages.

Parents of the students on Friday expressed distrust in the school district and accused the schools of continuous inaction and a lack of transparency.

“Upon returning to the school, the school had an opportunity to proactively implement any number of safety measures, yet the only one implemented was a requirement for clear backpacks that would be subject to search at any time,” said Alicia Feltz, one of the parents speaking at the Friday conference.

Alicia Feltz
Alicia Feltz, parent to one of the 20 Oxford High students suing the school district, speaks at a Friday news conference. Feltz said putting her child’s name in a federal lawsuit is a “desperate attempt” to be heard by the school district. (screenshot by Yue Stella Yu)

Feltz said a power outage at Oxford High last week locked all metal doors throughout the hallway but parents were not informed. She called the experience “traumatizing.”

“This was the first time the children experienced dark hallways in classrooms since that day,” she said. “The phone lines were so overwhelmed that it took several tries to reach anyone to call my daughter out. The fear and panic we experienced could have been avoided if the school had simply sent communication telling us our children were safe.”

Since the shooting, the school district has presented ongoing and new safety measures, including requirements for clear backpacks, student ID checks, additional security guards and a ban on locker uses. Oxford High School is also experimenting with a new artificial intelligence program that helps detect guns and alert school officials.

But parents said Friday some of the measures were not enforced consistently.

“There’s been little to no accountability and the efforts have been inconsistent at best,” Feltz said. 

And Jones, one of the mothers, said the school did not ask students how they felt returning to school but simply issued a return-to-school notice.

“The students were not asked how they felt about returning to the very hallway where their friends and siblings were killed,” Jones said. “Since the return, many students cannot finish a day or week due to the triggers, but how can they not be triggered when they travel the very scene of the crime every day?”

Additionally, some parents criticized the district for declining — for a third time — an offer from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office to investigate the shooting. The district also rejected Nessel’s offer to have a trained dog on campus to detect explosives and firearms for the upcoming school year. 

The school board voted in May to hire two independent firms to investigate the shooting after previously delaying the review, the Detroit Free Press reported. Students and parents, however, have expressed disappointment in the decision.

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Jones said Friday she is frustrated at the decision to turn down a free state investigation and instead use taxpayer money to hire an outside firm.

“When you are paying somebody to investigate yourself, how are you going to have an unbiased investigation?” Jones asked. “In addition to that, we are paying for this investigation with money that can be spent on mental health resources and security features for our students.”

Feltz said the lawsuit represents students’ urge to “be heard” by the school district.

“Putting our children’s names in a federal lawsuit is a desperate attempt,” she said. “With the lack of investigation, there’s a lack of transparency. With the lack of transparency, there’s a lack of accountability. If there’s no accountability, trust cannot be rebuilt.”

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