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Michigan Tragedy Raises Serious Issues of School Negligence

The deadly school shooting in Oxford, Michigan has resulted in criminal charges for student Ethan Crumbley and his parents. However, legal responsibility might extend to the school district as well. School personnel had apparently identified Crumbley as someone with behavioral problems and, on the day of the shooting, returned him to class despite the warning signs. Though the severity of the tragedy at Oxford High is an outlier, school violence is an everyday occurrence and the legal issues that arise out of this case could affect students and educators nationwide.

Within days of the shootings, parents of two students at Oxford High School filed a lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages because they believe administrators knew of the risk and did not take reasonable steps to prevent the murders. Issues that affect this litigation as well as other many other actions taken against allegedly negligent school districts include:

  • Social media posts — In their complaint, the plaintiffs cite the fact that the accused murderer had made several social media posts that indicated he was capable of violence. Parents had reported this online activity to the school two weeks prior to the shootings. In their complaint, plaintiffs allege that Principal Steven Wolf called the threat “exaggerated” and took no effective action. Determining how cognizant schools should be regarding their students’ social media activity can be a complex legal issue, but if you are aware of disturbing posts, you should put school administrators on notice.
  • Separation of potentially dangerous students — When a teacher, guidance counselor or principal identifies an articulable threat, the priority should be protecting the innocent children in the building. Given the numerous warning signs, including violent drawings made in the classroom, the school summoned Ethan Crumbley’s parents on the morning of the shooting. The parents refused the school’s request that they bring their son home and indicated they would seek counseling for him. Once that occurred, school administrators’ failure to separate Ethan from schoolmates was disastrous.
  • Ability to sue a school district — As a government body, public schools have certain legal protections that private businesses do not. The Michigan plaintiffs must prove that the district was grossly negligent in order to recover damages at trial. If your son or daughter was harmed in an educational institution and you believe compensation is warranted, your first step should be to contact an experienced school negligence attorney so you can learn about the relevant legal standards.

Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, LLP represents victims of school negligence and their families against educational institutions and districts throughout Long Island. If your child has been hurt or mistreated because a teacher, counselor, principal or other school employee didn’t do their job, we will outline your legal options.