By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
After a safe reopening, DK-8 schools closed again last Tuesday, Dec. 14, following “a specific threat” directed at Oxford Middle School from an image on social media the day before. All schools in the district remained closed for the rest of the week before the winter break.
All school district buildings were searched and cleared by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office with the help of more than 25 K-9 dogs and handlers, according to Oxford Community Schools.
Initially, class was to resume Wednesday, but “an overwhelming amount” of staff and families said they did not feel ready to return, according to Superintendent Tim Throne. “This has caused us to pause and consider the current needs and emotional well-being of our school community,” he wrote in a letter to district families.
The closure included Oxford Virtual Academy labs and hybrid locations. All sporting events at district facilities were canceled, while sports at non-district facilities and outside the district continued as planned.
District schools had been closed Dec. 1 to Dec. 11, following the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School.
“Our number one priority is the safety and emotional well-being of our students and staff,” Throne said. “Our hope and intention was to continue rebuilding this week but we feel that in such a sensitive and raw time it is better to reopen after the holiday break.”
Although the buildings were cleared, the threat is still under investigation by the sheriff’s office, with no additional information available.
“I realize this is disappointing to our students, families, and staff following such a successful safe and soft reopening of our DK-8 schools on Friday and the first full day of schools on Monday,” Throne wrote in a follow-up message Dec. 15. “The last thing any of us want is to close our schools. We are committed to bringing our students back safely and continuing their education, and we must take every threat seriously.”
Moving forward, the district is enacting “a zero-tolerance policy regarding violent content of any kind, whether in word, deed or on social media.”
Threats will be investigated by law enforcement and will result in discipline up to expulsion from schools. In addition, students who engage in threatening behavior or are found with violent images, words, or online activity either on or off school grounds, will be required to undergo a rigorous threat assessment with law enforcement personnel and mental health professionals.
“I definitely agree with the zero-tolerance policy and I’m glad you guys are doing that and taking this seriously,” Laura Fletcher said during public comment and the Dec. 14 school board meeting.
Her main concern is transparency about the threat itself. She wanted to know what the threat actually was, whether it came from a student or an adult, and whether it came from inside or outside the community. “When there is a threat, we need to know the details,” she said. “We need to know what we’re dealing with. We need to know how serious it is and we need to know what the repercussions were as far as was somebody arrested? Was there any punishment? Do we know who it was?”
This kind of transparency is needed in order for parents to feel comfortable trusting the administration again and to feel comfortable sending their kids back to school, she said.
Another parent, Shane Gibson, echoed that lack of trust. “This tragedy has shown the loss of trust, the loss of safety and security in this small town,” he said.
He wanted to know plans for continuing to educate students moving forward. “Because right now, every time a threat is called in, they’re sent home. . . And I’m okay with that because I want them safe. But what are we going to do as a school board, as a school district, to ensure that there’s not another loss – and that is the loss of their education that is rightfully theirs?”
Supt. Throne said that night he did not think they would be able to meet a self-imposed goal of reopening the high school Jan. 3, the first day after winter break. He said they will provide another update during the break.
The plan is to return DK-8 students to school as scheduled on Monday, Jan. 3.
In a Dec. 17 district message, Throne described the continued mental health support available during the break for all Oxford residents, students and families. Sessions will be available at the Legacy Center, 925 N. Lapeer Road. Folks can also access support by using the hotlines, 1-800-231-1127 or 1-844-446-4225.
“Please remember it is common to experience a wide range of emotional reactions to a traumatic event like the one our community has endured,” Throne said. “Take the time to seek help if you need it and reach out to support your friends and neighbors.”
Throne also encouraged parents to talk with their children about the serious consequences of making threats. Threats can be reported anonymously to the State of Michigan’s Okay2Say tip line at 8-555-OK2SAY or OKAY2SAY@mi.gov.
By James Hanlon