Press conference held Monday
By Don Rush
Just days before the Nov. 30, 2021 Oxford High School shooting anniversary, former Oxford Community Schools board members Tom Donnelly and Korey Bailey broke their silence. On Sunday they spoke privately with victims’ family members. On Monday, the two held a press conference to share information about the shooting and the district’s handling of it. To help them get their story out to the public they retained the services of retired TV investigative reporter Jim Kiertzner and attorney Bill Seikaly – both were at the conference.
One of Donnelly and Baily’s main critiques of the district was lack of follow through of a policy that was adopted by the district in 2004 was never properly implemented. “Had we been trained on threat assessment, I believe the threat would have ended on Nov. 29th and Nov. 30 would just be another day in Oxford,” Bailey said.
The press conference lasted about an hour with print and broadcast media from across the state packed into Donnelly’s coffee shop, Common Denominator, in the Legacy Center.
Kiertzner opened the meeting at 1 p.m. “They came to me to help tell their story to the Oxford community. I retired as one of you, as a reporter,” Kiertzner said, addressing the gathered media. “In all my 49 years in TV news, this is the most important story I will cover. And, I am doing it with all of you. Not a sit down with one television station. It is not a sit down with one newspaper or radio station, it is with all of you because this story is that important . . . People in this community have known in their guts that there was more to this. They will be getting more answers. In my view, they (Donnelly and Bailey) do this today with integrity and courage. They resigned because they couldn’t do the job they were elected to do.”
Donnelly, the former school board president, and Bailey, the former school board treasurer, shared their frustrations as to what information the school board was given and in turn what information the board presented to the community. They both resigned from the board of education this past September.
When the two former board members started to investigate claims community members were making, they said they soon felt they could no longer serve on the board. They both said “out-of-district voices” — voices from district counsel and insurance companies — threw up roadblocks to an independent, third-party investigation.
“Why speak now?” Donnelly said. “Yesterday we had the great honor to talk to the families. And that was one of the toughest days of my life. Today we speak to our community. We promised transparency, and we’ve never been able to get there. Since my resignation from the school board, I have been able to be transparent with community members when asked. With depositions scheduled in the next few weeks, I want the parents and the people of this community to hear from me first. Oxford Strong needs to mean more than we can endure pain. It needs to mean we can bear and deal with whatever transparency brings.”
Donnelly said an independent, third-party investigation should have happened immediately after the Oxford shooting, similar to how investigations are conducted after “a tornado, or plane crash or police shooting.”
“It should always be done,” he said. “But up until this day it (an independent, third-party investigation) has not been done – almost a year later from Nov. 30, 2021. The prosecutor’s office only went so far. Secure Education Consultants only went so far in their investigation. They made sure we had policies and that we had guidelines, but never went into whether we executed them. A year later we are frozen in time when it comes to the facts of that time period.
“In that counseling office on the 29th and 30th were any of the Secret Service/Homeland Security threat assessment protocols implemented and used? You see if a third-party independent review would have occurred it would have uncovered these failures already. But all we experienced was constant stalling of the independent review process.”
Donnelly continued, “Who works for who? I learned months in, that the non-district voices were being paid by our insurance company and not the district. Why does that matter? Because over time there were too many instances of things being done against the board’s interest. For instance, I learned in the month of May something we should have been told by our non-district voices back in February concerning the Oakland County Prosecutor’s position on us going ahead with the third-party review.”
Donnelly shared his frustrations on learning about parts of the case not from the district’s council, but rather from attorneys suing the district and from members of the community. “I would repeatedly ask the question (of non-district voices), ‘What do you all know that I don’t know?’ And would get the response that I had all the information. But I didn’t. The district knew, but I didn’t know.”
In May, he said, against district counsel recommendations, the board moved ahead with a third-party investigation and hired Guidepost Solutions, in partnership and Varnum Law as third-party investigators.
At that time in a statement, the district told the community, “The investigative report will be an unbiased reflection of the team’s findings and will include actionable recommendations related to those findings. Guidepost will share their report with the community at the same time it’s shared with the board and school administration. In the end, our goals are to maximize student and staff safety in the future and, specifically, to prevent another shooting at Oxford Community Schools.”
“And immediately,” Donnelly told reporters Monday, “Guidepost began to face obstacles. Roadblocks were put in their path. Slow to get information and to get interviews set up. But the most significant roadblock was in middle to late July when the district’s legal counsel met with the legal counsel of the teachers’ union and administration union and convinced them not to participate in the review process. This independent review process was clearly directed by a vote of the school board, but it was undercut by our own counsel. So again, who works for who?”
Donnelly and Bailey spoke of the district’s policies for school safety. Donnelly said he didn’t know of the policy referred to as “8400,” which is titled Enhancing School Safety Using A Threat Assessment Model, until Bailey brought it to his attention in August. At the press conference Bailey said the state mandates what districts should do for fire emergencies, “There’s a process, there’s training and there’s a playbook,” he said. “Training for fire emergencies is perfected. There have been zero fire school deaths in the United States for the last 50 years.”
Then he said, even though a district like Oxford has had a threats assessment policy since 2004, there are no guidelines, training or drills employed by the district to prevent such a tragedy as what happened on Nov. 30 last year, when four students, Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Schilling were killed, and six others injured as well as a teacher shot and injured.
It was their hope that by sharing their information other districts, not just Oxford, will examine their own threat assessment policies and conduct appropriate training.