DK-8 students safely return to school, Friday, shut down Tuesday

By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Oxford’s lower level schools reopened Friday, Dec. 10. All schools in the district had been closed since the shooting at Oxford High School Nov. 30. Students at the elementary schools, middle school and Bridges High School returned for a half-day “soft reopening” Friday.
But, because of a social media threat to Oxford Middle School on Monday, all buildings in the district were again closed on Tuesday. With the buildings closed, a full security check was instituted.
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Safety and security was the top priority on Friday as additional staff from Oakland Schools, law enforcement, professionally trained trauma specialists, and a private security firm were on site. Service members from Selfridge Air National Gaurd Base also volunteered in the buildings.
“As we developed our soft return to learning, we listened carefully to district families, staff members, trained grief counselors, mental health experts, security consultants, faith leaders, law enforcement, and other schools across the nation who have experienced similar tragedies,” Oxford Superintendent Tim Throne said in a press release. “I cannot thank our staff enough for standing Oxford Strong, leading by example, and continuing the learning journey for students in our DK-8 and Bridges buildings.”
The schools were decorated in a “Winter Wonderland” theme. Students returned to hallways decorated with tree lights, paper snowflakes, and more donated by the generous members of the Oxford community and beyond.
“As we continue to grieve and heal after the horrific events of last week,” Throne said in a message to families, “getting back into our educational routines and being together in the schools again is a critical component.”
More than 80% of elementary and middle school students were in attendance, according to the district. Throne called that “a huge success and statement given what we are going through. Thank you for your trust and support.”
Returning staff each received a letter of support from people from all over the globe, including 30 states and three countries.
Students in Kylee Ribant’s second-grade classroom at Daniel Axford Elementary were asked what makes them Oxford Strong. The top responses: Asking for help when we need it, being there for others and being kind.
“We forgot about the rest of the world for a day and we focused on hugs, love, and comfort,” Ribant said. “Just being together for a few short hours today made a world of difference as we continue to heal as educators, students, families, and staff as one Wildcat Nation.”
Students spent time with therapy dogs, worked on holiday art projects, and reconnected with one another following the tragic events of last week. The therapy dogs will be in the buildings indefinitely as the entire Oxford community begins the healing process.
“My kids loved school today,” said Jesse Holt, parent of an elementary student and middle school student in the district. “They are talking nonstop about it. To you and your staff: thank you so much.”
“I’m just so proud of how the board and I were able to participate in each of the schools today,” said Tom Donnelly, School Board president. “It was emotional to see families hugging, rushing into the school and excited children with joy in their faces after all we’ve been through. One example was a kid turning toward his mom, giving her a hug, turning around, and literally leaping out of his shoes to get back into his school.”
The day before students returned, staff underwent a daylong trauma-response training. “We recognize that students will have varying knowledge and understanding about what occurred,” Throne said in a note to families before the reopening. “We will be acknowledging, in an age/grade-appropriate way based on recommendations from trained mental health counselors and crisis response experts, why we have been closed for the last seven days. Our staff has been alerted that if students raise concerning questions, they need to engage the trained professional staff. If this occurs, the child’s family will be called.”
No backpacks are allowed in any buildings for the rest of the term. More will be communicated on the topic before the return from holiday break.
“We have a long journey ahead and we should feel proud we took this important step together today,” Throne said. “Please keep the families and victims of last week’s tragedy in your thoughts and prayers.”

High School remains
closed until next year
No return date has been announced for high school students. Supt. Throne has said the building requires a lot of repair and cleanup before it will be ready.
OHS Principal Steve Wolf said in Dec. 6 message to students, he does not expect any formal classes to resume “until at least after the Holiday break.”
In the meantime, the high school has organized several informal events for students-only to gather and spend time together in safe settings, if they wish. Wolf said they are also reaching out to each student individually.
High school students were allowed to pick up their backpacks early this week, in a drive-thru with the help of OHS staff. Sorting the backpacks and personal items left behind at the school was an enormous undertaking, according to Throne.
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Oxford High School Athletics returned to competition on Monday with a bowling match between Oxford High School and Ferndale High School.

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