Michigan State Board of Education calls for independent review of Oxford school shootings

A man and a woman stand in front of the steps of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing.
The State Board of Education passed a resolution that urges lawmakers to make school safety reforms after they heard from parents of the victims of the Oxford school shooting. (Di’Amond Moore / Detroit Free Press)

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The Michigan State Board of Education on Tuesday called for a comprehensive independent review of the Oxford High School mass shooting at the request of the parents of the four teens shot to death by a student in 2021.

The board passed a resolution that asks the legislature to fund a review of officials’ response to the shootings. The resolution also asks for legislators to pass laws that make suicide and threat assessment part of every emergency operation plan. Additionally, the board called on lawmakers to extend mental health funding in the 2024-25 state budget.

The board is an elected body that can make recommendations to legislators, but has no power to pass laws.

Though an independent report, conducted by a firm that specializes in investigation and released in October, found multiple failures by school officials to prevent the shootings, the victims’ parents told the board last month there were still many unanswered questions.

Several lawsuits against the district and its employees are ongoing. A circuit court last year dismissed a claim in one case due to government immunity.

The parents of the shooter were each sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for failing to prevent their son from committing the killings.

The board voted 7-1 to pass the resolution, introduced by Democrat Judith Pritchett. Tom McMillin, a Republican, voted against it.

McMillin said he could not support the resolution because it omitted measures he suggested, including laws that remove government immunity for school districts in litigation that allege lapses in safety as well as giving subpoena power to the independent review.

“It’s very frustrating, we could actually do something that would really get to the truth of what happened in Oxford and really also force systemic change,” he said.

The board’s approval of the resolution comes seven months after board member Nikki Snyder, a Republican, battled with Democratic members to include her own resolutions on school safety. Snyder and McMillin are the only Republicans on the Democratic-controlled body.

Her most recent attempt in April urged lawmakers to create a statewide emergency response plan, remove protections shielding public school officials from legal liability, hold staff accountable for lapses in safety, require annual school safety inspections, and create a database of student deaths and injuries, among other measures. The board declined to take a vote on her proposals.

At the time, board president Pamela Pugh decried Snyder insinuating that the other members weren’t urgent in addressing school safety. Other members said they had already passed a number of other resolutions addressing school safety and student mental health following the Oxford shootings.

Snyder asked the board to consider amended versions of those resolutions Tuesday, but the Democratic members voted against it.

The adopted resolution did include some of Snyder’s proposals, including the recommendation that an independent investigation follow any event that results in a student’s death at school.

Snyder said she voted for the resolution because she knew the parents of Oxford students wanted action.

“There’s things that are still missing in this resolution,” she said. “And so I’m not going to give up. I think that it needs to continue to be a topic that we talk about, that we’re willing to come back to. I don’t want to be wavering.”

Hannah Dellinger covers K-12 education and state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at hdellinger@chalkbeat.org.

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