Whistleblowers allege high school failed to follow threat assessment procedures before shooting

Whistleblowers allege high school failed to follow threat assessment procedures before shooting
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

While the teenager responsible for the shootings at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan has pled guilty to four charges of murder, former members of the Oxford school board are speaking out about what they describe as failures of the school system to follow its own directives; a failure that directly led to the teenager murdering his classmates in the high school last November.

According to former school board President Tom Donnelly and former treasurer Korey Bailey, Oxford schools had a threat assessment policy that was ignored not once, but twice in the days and hours before the teenage suspect opened fire. The day before the shooting, for instance, the suspect was seen looking up information on ammunition while in class, something that Donnelly and Bailey say should have resulted in him being sent home. Instead, he not only stayed in class the rest of the day but returned to school the following morning, where he was sent to a meeting with the dean of students, a school counselor, and his parents after a teacher discovered a disturbing drawing the suspect had made in class.

Once again, Donnelly and Bailey say the school’s threat assessment policy, had it been followed, would have required the student be removed from the school building, at least temporarily. Instead, after the suspect’s parents refused to take him home, the suspect was allowed to return to class, apparently with a gun in his backpack, which had never been searched by the school.

At issue for the whistleblowers is why a bigger threat assessment team wasn’t formed, as required by the district’s policy.

The board members have retained attorney Bill Seikaly to represent them in their whistleblowing activities, which come one week after Oxford Superintendent Ken Weaver resigned, citing health concerns.

“What they are doing is coming forward with information they were told they could not reveal to the public ,” Seikaly said of the whistleblower board members. “They are coming clean.”

Critics believe the reason the threat assessment team was never assembled is simple: Oxford schools never thought this could happen to them.

Perhaps most troubling for the whistleblowers is how school officials handled [perpetrator’s name redacted by Bearing Arms] after he was seen researching ammunition on his cellphone on Nov. 29: They left a voicemail for his mom, who never responded, when they could have ordered him removed from the school.

“I believe if they had, the situation would have ended on Nov. 29, and Nov. 30 would just be another day in Oxford,” Bailey said.

For their part, current school district officials have remained mostly silent about the whistleblower allegations, with a law firm that works with the district’s liability insurance carrier saying in a statement that “many of the former board members’ allegations show a misunderstanding of the facts,” promising to rebut at least some of their criticisms in their formal response to litigation that’s been filed by several of the families victimized by the murderer.

The primary blame for the shooting lies with the killer himself, of course, though his parents are also facing charges of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly providing their son with the gun used in the attack. Earlier today, however, the Michigan State Supreme Court ordered the state Court of Appeals to reconsider whether or not there’s sufficient evidence to charge the parents with that specific offense.

When it comes to Oxford schools, however, the former school board members say the district has been able to avoid accountability for its purported failures.

Standing before reporters Monday, getting emotional at times, the two former board members leveled fresh allegations against the district, saying they couldn’t stay quiet any longer, especially after discovering a years-old threat assessment policy that they believe could have thwarted the tragedy had it been followed.

“This document changed everything from my perspective,” Donnelly said as he held up the policy modeled after Secret Service recommendations. “There’s no evidence that we’ve ever used it as it is designed, even though since 2011 the policies and guidelines have been in our system.”

The policy, referred to as 8400, is listed on the Oxford school district’s website.

“I pray that every parent in Michigan is watching this today and will go back to their school boards and demand that their schools dust off policy 8400,” said Bailey, stressing that he is speaking out now because he couldn’t tolerate the false narrative anymore — that everything was done correctly by school officials.

“This board had been told over and over that our team did everything right, but a bad thing still happened. If that were true, how could a shooting have happened?” asked Bailey, who said he dug into the 8400 policy to see what, if any, school safety protocols were missed.

He added: “The only thing new is that they are now going to implement them.”

Sadly, this isn’t exactly surprising. The mass murderer who targeted Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018 was also supposed to be subject to a threat assessment policy in Broward County Public Schools, but the commission that investigated the shooting determined that the threat assessment was botched by school officials at the time. Two years later the school system was found to still be suffering from major defects in implementing its own policies; including the fact that more than half of the assessments weren’t completed within 24 hours and an incredible 82% of cases where a monitoring plan was supposed to be in place for at-risk students failing to provide any follow-up or reporting at all.

Michigan Democrats, who now have complete control of state government for the first time in decades, are almost certain to use the Oxford shooting as justification for more gun control laws. Based on the allegations of the former school board members, however, it’s clear that the failures lie not with the state’s gun laws, but with the adults who failed to take the threat posed by the suspect as seriously as they should have.