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Michigan school board member after Oxford shooting: Make school optional

A member of Michigan’s State Board of Education suggests school should be optional for the state’s children.

Tom McMillin, one of two Republicans on the eight-member, state-elected board, tied the unusual proposal to the Nov. 30 school shooting at Oxford High School that left four dead and seven injured.

Tom McMillin
Tom McMillin suggests that if school weren’t mandatory, parents of students suffering from mental illness could more easily keep them home. (Courtesy photo)

In an email to Bridge Michigan Monday, McMillin suggested that if schooling was not mandatory for the state’s children ages 6-16, the rampage may not have happened, because the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who is accused in the tragedy, might have kept him home.

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“I can say that if compulsory schooling laws were off the books, I'm confident there would have been many additional options for the Crumbleys to consider for their son,” McMillin wrote. “Whether they would have taken advantage of them, I don't know, of course.”

The shooting killed  Oxford students Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17.

Michigan — along with every other state and the vast majority of countries in the world — requires children to receive an education.

McMillin’s proposal, first made as a Facebook post two days after the most deadly school shooting in the United States since 2018, wouldn’t eliminate public schools, but would allow families to choose whether, or when, to send their kids to school.

Michigan already allows parents to home school their children. But McMillin’s suggestion goes farther, proposing the state drop all requirements that parents educate their kids.

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In an interview, the former state representative told Bridge Michigan that parents who have children who are struggling with mental health issues or with stress shouldn’t be required to send their kids to school.

“I’ve heard of parents who the kids are under a lot of pressure from school, and taking them out of that environment may be good,” McMillin said. “The last thing they need is for a truancy officer to be knocking on their door. They can get education when they can … and not to have to worry about state laws and the truancy laws.”

McMillin is used to causing waves in Michigan political circles. The Rochester Hills resident is a conservative with libertarian views, who served in the state legislature from 2009 to 2014. In the past he has protested outside abortion clinics and helped defeat a Royal Oak gay rights ordinance, but also has worked with the ACLU on prisoner rights issues.

The extremely unlikely proposal to repeal compulsory schooling is significant because the person suggesting it is one of eight people elected statewide to serve on the state Board of Education. But the board has no ability to change the state’s education laws, which are set by the Legislature.

The proposal received a chilly reception from Michigan education leaders.

“I appreciate Mr. McMillin’s recent interest into student mental health needs, however, to suggest we abandon the stability of compulsory education for children is irresponsible,” said State Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich in a statement. 

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“Parents provide important support for their children. Schools also provide caring adults with experience and resources to help children in need. Having a revolving door, as Mr. McMillin suggests, will not improve student outcomes or students’ mental health.”

In a statement sent to Bridge Michigan, State Superintendent Michael Rice said that if McMillin is interested in the mental health of students, schools provide mental health services that many families can’t provide at home.

“The most recent budget negotiated between the governor and Legislature last summer … added $240 million for helping professionals in schools: social workers, guidance counselors, nurses, and psychologists,” Rice said. “We need to develop strong mental health supports for our students and staff and to make these resources readily available to all.”

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