Local educators react to Oxford tragedy

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published December 8, 2021

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CENTER LINE/WARREN/EASTPOINTE — Local communities are heartbroken over the tragic shooting that occurred Nov. 30 at Oxford High School.

According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley opened fire with a pistol, killing Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17. His alleged actions also injured a teacher and several other students, some still in critical condition.

With Oxford located in northern Oakland County, the tragedy hit close to home.

“The proximity has heightened everyone’s awareness,” Center Line Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Haynes said. “It happened in Michigan, just one county over.”

When Center Line staff came to school the day after the shooting Dec. 1, they gathered for a voluntary staff meeting before the school day began. Educators discussed the tragedy and also made sure the district’s mental health team was ready to meet the needs of any student who wanted to talk about the shooting.

“The staff, there was a lot of compassion and empathy,” Haynes said. Educators also discussed safety protocols within the district, asking, ‘What are we doing to try to address this?’”

Center Line teachers and support staff received ALICE training in 2019 to prepare for the unthinkable. Developed by various law enforcement agencies, ALICE stands for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.”

ALICE provides additional options beyond the traditional lockdown and provides training on what to do in an active shooter situation or a similar emergency. It does not teach fighting techniques, but rather actions designed to interrupt a violent intruder’s decision-making cycles and ability to shoot accurately.

Haynes said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff has not been able to hold ALICE practice drills with students because of social distancing. However, since the Oxford shooting there was talk that another training drill was necessary.

Students are reminded that if they hear about any potential threats, they should contact school personnel immediately or their local police department. It’s also suggested to contact the OK2SAY program at the website address www.michigan.gov/ok2say. OK2SAY allows anyone to confidentially report tips on criminal activities or potential harm directed at Michigan students, school employees or schools without having to give their name. If a Center Line student reported a potential threat to OK2SAY, “The state police would call me immediately,” Haynes said.

Center Line students are also encouraged to seek mental health treatment if needed.

“If the student wants help, we have a pretty great mental health team with counselors and social workers in our buildings. The kids that want the help usually can get it,” Haynes said. “If a kid is not feeling right or there’s a cloud over their head, their teacher may try to (have a) counselor or social worker speak with them. They’ll get ahold of their parents. We have a great support group with outside clinicians and organizations that work with us. The big challenge is whether the student wants help or not.”

Other local districts are grief-stricken.

“This is a tragedy on so many levels. Even one time is too many. People are feeling such a sense of loss,” Eastpointe Community Schools Superintendent Ryan McLeod said. “You can’t help but have your heart reach out to the families.”

Social workers and counselors were available in Eastpointe Community Schools last week for any student or staff member who wanted to talk about the Oxford shooting.

“Students need us to be there for them for emotional support,” McLeod said. “We have a number of staff who have connections to Oxford. I can’t even imagine sending your children to school and they do not come home.”

Like Center Line, Eastpointe utilizes ALICE, and with the Oxford tragedy is taking another look at its safety procedures.

“It helps to be able to review our security protocols and emergency response practices,” McLeod said.

And while some of the newer Eastpointe staff members have not been trained in ALICE, there are plans for them to undergo training this year.

Help is available for students who struggle with mental health issues.

“We have social workers and psychologists who are trained and care deeply that the social and emotional needs of our kids are met,” McLeod said. “We have ongoing partnerships with outside agencies (such as) CARE and New Oakland (Family Centers.) We connect families and students. We provide for the whole child.”

McLeod said that it’s also important for students and their teachers to have strong relationships. Students building bonds between each other also is vital. Keeping the lines of communication open is one way to help prevent another tragedy.

“If there is a threat to the school or a concern, we definitely want to know about it,” McLeod said. “If families and students have concerns for any reason or hear something in the lunchroom or on social media, contact the Eastpointe Police Department or one of the adults in school.”

McLeod also feels much more needs to be done, either legislatively or societally, to prevent school shootings.

To remember the shooting victims, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Nov. 30 ordered U.S. and Michigan flags within the State Capitol Complex, all public buildings and grounds across the state to be lowered to half-staff immediately. Michigan residents, businesses, schools, local governments and other organizations also were encouraged to display flags at half-staff.