By Don Rush
For about an hour last Friday morning, the group Change 4 Oxford held a video press conference with members of the Michigan media announcing 20 Oxford students were filing a lawsuit in federal court aimed at forcing the Oxford Community School District’s board and administration “to make policy changes the students and parents feel are required for effective learning to resume, especially after what has been, for many, another lost school year.”
The conference was organized by the public relations firm Harbor Strategic Public Affairs out of Lansing and included four Oxford parents Lori Bourgeau, Andrea Jones, Alicia Feltz, April Ventline and two attorneys for the students, Scott Weidenfeller and Carlye Reynolds.
The students’ lawsuit, a release from the Change for Oxford stated, was “prompted by the Oxford Community School District’s violation of their (the students’) constitutional rights to safety and education, with the goal of forcing policy changes at the school.”
Parent Feltz told reporters during the question and answer portion of the meeting, “We didn’t want to be here. This is a desperate attempt (to get information and affect policy change).”
“We have been stalemated by the school board and administration,” said parent Jones. “We cannot fix the problem if we don’t know what happened (leading up to the Nov. 30 Oxford High School shooting).”
Parent Bourgeau said, “We tried to keep this in Oxford and got nowhere. 199 days later (since the shooting) and that’s why we’re here (speaking with media from across the state).”
According to the release, the suit does not seek monetary damages.
The students’ suit claims:
The Oxford School District and Superintendent Ken Weaver deprived all students at Oxford High School of “their right to a public education, and it will continue to deprive students of this right until the district undergoes a truly transparent, independent third-party review of the events leading up to the shooting . . . and implements new policies and practices to ensure the safety of all students at Oxford High School.”
It also claims, the district “had–and continues to have–unconstitutional policies in place, which created and/or increased the risk of the school shooting on November 30, 2021.”
The suit claims district employees Shawn Hopkins, and Nicholas Ejak as well as then Superintendent Timothy Throne and then OHS Principal Steven Wolf all acted “with deliberate indifference to create and/or increase the risk of violence the day of the shooting, in violation of each student’s constitutional rights.”
Attorney Weidenfeller said he hopes the suit will force the district to release information on what happened leading up to the shooting and to be more “transparent.”
Attorney Reynolds reminded members of the media that only students were plaintiffs in the lawsuit and none of their parents. “The parents are just supporting their children.”
Parents at the conference were not trustful of the board’s decision to hire an independent third party investigators, when they could have accepted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s proposal to investigate. “Why spend money hiring a third party investigator, when that money could have been spent on (students) mental health,” Jones said.
In May the school board hired Varnum Law Firm and Guidepost Solutions to conduct their investigation.
According to the release, some of the policy changes the group wants include: Examples of these policy changes include the immediate: Retraction all statements made in the course of the district’s cover story after the shooting; Implementation of a fully transparent and independent third-party investigation of the actions and events leading up to the school shooting; End to its practice of concealing and minimizing threats of violence and instead its engagement of full transparency regarding future threats of violence and safety concerns; End to the practice of returning students to class when there is no “disciplinary issue” even when the student poses a risk of harm to himself/herself or others; Securing of proper training for administrators and staff regarding the restriction of students from returning to class if they are suicidal and/or pose a risk to self or others; Securing of proper training for administrators and staff regarding legal searches of student belongings when that student poses a safety risk; and, securing of proper training for administrators and staff regarding risk and threat assessments, especially when students are suicidal.
At The Leader’s deadline, school district officials had “no comment” about the suit.