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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Parents of slain Michigan students: Make school staff talk to investigators

A memorial outside of Oxford High School on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich. Four students were killed and seven others injured three days prior when student Ethan Crumbley opened fire with a pistol at the school.  (Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Jennifer Chambers Detroit News

OXFORD, Mich. – Parents of children murdered in the 2021 Oxford High School attack demanded that school staff who declined to be interviewed for the independent investigation be compelled to talk and the report updated with their interviews.

Buck Myre and Steve St. Juliana, whose children were among four killed in the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting, told Oxford Superintendent Vickie Markavitch during a listening session Thursday that only 35% of school staff cooperated with interviews with Guidepost Solutions.

“How can you learn if we don’t get to the bottom of what happened on the 30th?” said Myre, whose son Tate was killed. “And we haven’t (learned) because only 35% spoke. How can you say with confidence we can stop the next Nov. 30? How do you know if not everyone spoke up?”

St. Juliana, whose daughter, Hana, was killed in the shooting, said if compelling school employees to speak as part of their employment required changes, Markavitch should get approval from the school board.

“Go to the board and authorize Guidepost to make addendum from these sessions. Also, I’m not sure it’s a 100% bargaining issue. If it must be negotiated, I am asking the board to initiate that immediately with the unions. Especially with the questionable actions of the MEA,” St. Juliana said. “The chance here is to have a robust report to be used by the rest of Michigan and the rest of the nation to learn.”

Educators and administrators at the district were advised not to participate in interviews for a third-party investigation by an attorney for the Michigan Education Association.

Oxford school officials confirmed Thursday that the Guidepost investigation will cost the district an estimated $2.7 million. Markavitch said the funds to pay for the report are coming from an appropriation state lawmakers made in 2022 for the district to recover from the attack.

Of the 161 people Guidepost tried to interview for the report, 70 did not respond or refused to participate.

Of those 70 people, 34 were teachers who either refused, did not respond or reported that they had nothing to share, the report found.

The listening session at the Oxford Middle School Media Center attracted about 35 community members, a majority of whom were parents who had questions about the report. Markavitch said the school board expects to provide a public response to the report on Dec. 12.

Guidepost found that the board failed in its oversight of the district’s Superintendent Tim Throne, who did not ensure district policies were being followed. Specifically, the report alleged the absence of threat assessment guidelines in the district was “a significant failure, the responsibility for which sits with the superintendent, the assistant superintendents and the board.”

Four students – Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17 – were killed and seven others, including a teacher, were injured in the mass shooting.

The gunman was 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore at the time of the attack, who plotted the killing spree in a journal and used a Sig Sauer 9 mm semi-automatic handgun to kill classmates and injure others.

Jill Soave, mother of Shilling, said the report confirmed much of what she already knew: her son was alive when a security guard opened a bathroom door, and that school security cameras were not being monitored by anyone at the high school on the day of the attack.

“When this report came out, I felt so validated,” Soave said. “We need to address the heart of the issue, our four dead children.”

On Monday, demands for two Oxford school board members and school administrators to resign were issued by district parents who say failures related to the school attack require them to step down.

In separate but similar requests, Oxford Community Schools parents Kristen Karr and Cara Erskine said Monday that they are both seeking the resignation of board President Heather Shafer and board Treasurer Mary Hanser following the release of the Guidepost Solutions report on Oct. 30.

Shafer and Hanser were on the board at the time of the attack. Karr emailed her request to the district and board on Saturday.

Erskine on Monday also called for the resignations of Shafer and Hanser as well as district employees “whose actions or inactions contributed to the tragic events” on Nov. 30, 2021.

She also is demanding the full funding of mental health resources and the repeal of Michigan’s government immunity laws, which led one Oakland County judge to dismiss private lawsuits against the school district.

Erskine said she is circulating petitions in the Oxford community to get support for the resignations of Steve Wolf, the former Oxford High School principal, and Shawn Hopkins, the former Oxford high counselor of the shooter, who remain employed by the district and were in place at the time of the attack.

Wolf is currently assistant superintendent of secondary instruction. Guidepost found that Wolf and the Oxford school board had the most blame in failing to be proactive in handling the shooter before the shooting unfolded.

Guidepost found that Hopkins, as the school counselor on Nov. 30, 2021, interacted with the shooter three times the day of and before the shooting, and failed to take appropriate steps with him that might have avoided the tragedy.

Hopkins’ most recent job in the district was not immediately available.