The morning Ethan Crumbley drew a picture of a gun and blood on his math homework sheet, and scrawled the words "The thoughts won't stop, help me," he should have been sent home under the Oxford school district's own threat assessment policy — only it was never used and no one was ever trained for it, two whistleblowers allege.
Instead, they say, school officials caved to Ethans' parents' demands that their son be returned to class that morning — when officials had the authority to remove him — and bloodshed followed: The teenager shot and killed four classmates and injured six other students and a teacher at Oxford High.
According to the whistleblowers, it was the second time in 24 hours that school officials mishandled Crumbley, alleging the teen also should have been sent home the day before the shooting, when he was caught researching bullets on his cellphone in class. Under the district's policy, they say, such activity is grounds for removal.
Whistleblowers quit Oxford school board, frustrated by district
But the policy was ignored that day, too, they allege, stressing that the district has thus far tried to keep this information secret.
And they can't take it anymore.
Nearly one year after the deadly Oxford school shooting, two former school board members spoke out Monday about what they allege are key missteps by the district before Crumbley carried out the Nov. 30 shooting using a gun his parents bought him as an early Christmas present.
Crumbley pleaded guilty to all counts last month and faces up to life in prison, with no chance for parole.
The whistleblowers are former school board President Tom Donnelly and Treasurer Korey Bailey — both of whom resigned two months ago out of frustration over the district's handling of the shooting investigation.
'No evidence that we’ve ever used it as it is designed'
They allege the shooting was preventable had the district followed its own playbook, the outline of which has not previously been divulged to the public. They maintain that Oxford school officials have led the community to believe that they did everything right and that a bad thing still happened. But the facts, they allege, show that the officials could have prevented the tragedy.
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."
Attorney general: 'This is hardly a surprise'
The whistleblowers' allegations triggered a curt response by Attorney General Dana Nessel, who posted to Twitter: "This news is hardly a surprise."
Nessel noted that her office has three times offered to conduct an independent review of the events before, during and after the Oxford shooting. The school board has declined each offer.
"Our intent was not to cast blame on the school administrators and staff, but merely to discover what had occurred so that we could help understand how to prevent future school shootings and make recommendations which could be applied statewide," Nessel tweeted Monday.
"My department and I will be working with the new legislature to explore changes in the law which would grant authority to the Michigan Department of Attorney General to investigate school districts where evidence suggests students were not properly protected from these tragedies."
Investigator vows transparency: 'We will not pull any punches'
The school district has hired Guidepost Solutions, a security consulting firm, to investigate the high school's actions in the days and hours leading up to the Nov. 30 shooting, and the days after.
In a statement Monday to the Free Press, Guidepost Solutions Executive Vice President Bradley Dizik said: "Guidepost is aware of the allegations made today by the former Oxford school board members. A review of the district’s security and threat assessment practices prior to, on and after Nov. 30, 2021, and other related considerations shared today by the former Oxford school board members is included in the scope of our independent investigation."
Dizik did not comment on the allegations leveled Monday, but instead referred to comments he made at last Tuesday’s Oxford school board meeting, when the Oakland County native vowed transparency.
"Nothing is more important to me than getting this right. We owe it to Oxford," Dizik said, adding his firm is currently working on two reports that are expected to be released early next year.
One is a review of the district's current security and threat assessment practices. The second report will provide "a full factual accounting of the events leading up to, on, and after Nov. 30," he said.
"This report will focus on the answers that the victims’ families and Oxford community has been demanding. Our investigation is being conducted objectively. It is not a gotcha. But our report will not pull any punches. Our mandate is to provide the Oxford community and the victims’ families with transparency. That we will do."
'We are frozen in time'
Donnelly and Bailey contend the district has not been transparent thus far, leaving many unanswered questions about the school's actions before the shooting.
"A year later, we are frozen in time when it comes to the facts of that time period," Donnelly said, stressing he still doesn't know whether protocols were followed when Ethan Crumbley's behavior raised red flags on the day before and morning of the shooting.
"I still do not know the answer to that question today. In that counselor's office on the 29th and 30th, were any of the Secret Service and Homeland Security threat assessment protocols implemented and used?" Donnelly said.
Ethan Crumbley took behavioral risk survey twice
The district has yet to reveal other crucial details, they allege, including how it handled the results of a behavioral risk survey that Crumbley took as a freshman, and again as a sophomore. Just months before the mass shooting, Crumbley took the so-called SAEBR survey, which helps educators identify social-emotional and behavioral problems in students.
The district has not disclosed how those results were handled, what they showed and whether Crumbley's scores raised red flags, say the whistleblowers, who are still demanding those answers.
"This has gone on long enough. I couldn’t take the Oxford stonewalling and lack of accountability any more," Bailey said in a news release Sunday. “They never thought a school shooting would happen here and they failed to take action to prevent it.”
In the end, Bailey said, he would discover that the school district had a threat assessment policies and safety procedures, but didn't put them into practice when Ethan Crumbley raised red flags before he shot up his school. And despite an independent review that concluded the district acted appropriately before the carnage was carried out, Bailey said the report "only focused on if we had the policies, not if they were implemented."
Bailey and Donnelly first disclosed their allegations on Sunday in a private meeting with victims' families before going public with them at Monday's news conference. The district faces several lawsuits from the families.
“I’m tired of being kicked in the teeth by people who just want to know the truth,” Donnelly said. “If Oxford Strong means anything, it has to be more than just enduring the pain. It has to include being able to handle the truth.”
On its website, the school district lists a threat assessment policy that is modeled after a U.S. Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security guide for preventing school violence. Under that policy, adopted in 2004 and updated in 2011, here is what is required:
Employees, volunteers and other school community members must immediately report to the superintendent or principal any expression of intent to harm another person or other statements or behaviors that suggest a student may intend to commit an act of violence.
A threat assessment team must meet when the principal learns a student has made a threat of violence or engages in concerning communications or behaviors that suggest the likelihood of a threatening situation.
The threat assessment team should include the principal, school counselor, school psychologist, instructional personnel and student resource officer. It may also include others, such as a third-party mental health provider or family-school liaison.
Threat assessment team was too small, whistleblowers say
According to courtroom testimony, hours before the Nov. 30 mass shooting, the threat assessment team was much smaller than what the policy called for.
Two school officials met with Ethan Crumbley after his violent drawing was discovered by a math teacher. They were dean of students Nicholas Ejak and school counselor Shawn Hopkins.
According to prosecutors, the counselor and dean of students met with Crumbley and his parents to discuss the violent drawing he made just hours before the shooting. They say Crumbley convinced both school officials that the drawing was for a video game. The officials requested that Crumbley go home, but his parents, who are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the case, refused — so the school officials allowed him to return to class.
In the end, it was the counselor and dean of students who made the call to keep him at school.
As former Superintendent Tim Thorne noted to parents in a letter: "These incidents remained at the guidance counselor level and were never elevated to the principal or assistant principal’s office."
Following the shooting, Ejak and Hopkins were placed on leave and have since been reinstated.
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 Ethan Crumbley 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.
In a statement late Monday, Oxford schools board president Dan D’Alessandro urged the public to allow Guidepost's independent review process "to take place so the facts can be brought to light in a clear, accurate, and impartial manner."
"At Oxford Community Schools the safety of our students and staff has remained our number one priority," D'Allessandro stated, noting the third-party review "has since seen increased participation of key stakeholders. The review will help us all understand the facts and have the transparency and accountability we all deserve."
The law firm of Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton, which works with the school district's insurance carrier, acknowledged some of the allegations leveled Monday by the former board members, stating:
"Mr. Donnelly is correct in acknowledging that the district had appropriate safety policies in place since 2004. He also confirmed that multiple staff members received threat assessment training before the Nov. 30 tragedy."
But, the law firm added: "Many of the former board members’ allegations show a misunderstanding of the facts." It said more will be revealed in the pending litigation.
Tresa Baldas: email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whistleblowers: Oxford schools ignored threat policy on Ethan Crumbley