Former Oxford School Leader Shares Lessons Learned in Violence Prevention, Response and Recovery
Two years after four students were tragically killed at Oxford High School, a former district leader offers advice on school violence mitigation.
On Nov. 30, 2021, a student at Michigan’s Oxford High School brought a gun to school and killed four classmates: Tate Myre, 16, Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17. Six additional students and a teacher were also injured.
Just short of two years after the tragedy, a final incident report was released, outlining significant failures in the district’s overall prevention, response, and recovery processes. These findings, often referred to as after-action reviews, are critical in ensuring the same mistakes aren’t made again — not only within Oxford Community Schools but all schools.
Perhaps the most significant finding in the report is the importance of having threat assessment processes in place. The report emphasizes that the 15-year-old shooter should have been sent home on Nov. 30 when counselors called his parents in for a meeting after a teacher discovered a drawing with a gun and the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The drawing also contained an image of a bullet with the words, “Blood everywhere.”
Campus Safety recently spoke with Jill Lemond, who was Oxford Community School’s assistant superintendent of student services at the time of the tragedy and later became the assistant superintendent of safety and school operations. Lemond shared lessons learned from the incident (06:19), including the importance of threat assessments.
“[Schools must have] systems in place to regularly monitor student’s social-emotional well-being — using some sort of metric that is visited systematically at a certain number of times a year to kind of get an idea of, okay, this is a student’s baseline, and then maybe something has changed. What system is in place to monitor that? That’s an important piece,” Lemond said. “When it comes to threat assessment, making sure you have different perspectives and different voices in the room — so to speak — when it comes to assessing students. And that’s not meant to be punitive. It’s not meant to get kids in trouble. Threat assessment is about helping students — helping to avert violence is part of it — but helping them get the help that they need to be not only academically successful, but also emotionally, personally successful is really the point.”
“What really wasn’t reported on, being a smaller town with a single high school, Oxford is Every Town, USA, where people come on Thursday nights to concerts in the park and you can find grandparents and multi-generations at the football games throughout the community,” described Lemond. “So many were impacted by this horrible violent event. And not only those who were in the building but board members and community business owners. There’s such a connectedness in a town like that because your school becomes the hub for the community.”
In our interview, Lemond also shared:
- Overall advice for school violence deterrence (00:01)
- Recovery advice for schools that may experience a similar incident in the future (10:15)
- What parents can do to prevent school violence (15:13)
- What students can do to prevent school violence (19:14)
The full interview transcript is below and includes subhead descriptions to help break up the discussion into easily digestible bits.
School Gun Violence Deterrence
Amy Rock (00:00): I feel like when people think of deterring gun violence, they likely picture technological deterrents such as weapons detection, which you’re familiar with in your role, but while that can be effective, what are some other ways schools can deter gun violence?
Jill Lemond (00:16): That’s a great question, Amy. And really when it comes to gun violence or any sort of violence in a school setting, it’s about a comprehensive layered approach to school safety. It isn’t any one thing. It isn’t any one gadget or one technology piece, and it isn’t even one action or one policy or procedure. It’s all of it. And how it works together; it’s the people, the processes, and the technology and really the way in which those things interact. And what research shows us is that our culture and our climate in our schools actually is one of the greatest indicators of how safe that school setting is. If you look at the US Secret Service report in 2019 where they talk about averting school violence, one of the main ways that they highlight to do that is to have positive adult relationships between students and staff members or students and community members – to make students to feel welcome in their school, to feel invited into sort of a sanctuary type environment.
And that’s important that the students feel that way because it makes them more comfortable reporting any kind of behavior that maybe is concerning amongst their peers. And typically we find that when it comes to school violence, especially targeted violent acts, the students are our greatest resource. They know what’s happening in the school, they have the pulse of the student body, and they have to have avenues to report that, whether it be to a staff member that they’ve created that relationship with that trusting adult relationship or through anonymous reporting systems, which we’ve seen come up across the country that have really brought about some great information that has helped to avert school violence. And so again, it’s not any one thing, it’s how all these pieces fit together. And the students are really key in this — the students and the relationship with staff members in the school environment.
Amy Rock (01:59): That reminds me, Molly Hudgens did a keynote for one of our [Campus Safety Conference], and she was a trusted person to a student who brought a gun to her school. And you don’t want to think about what if that relationship didn’t exist? God only knows what would’ve happened. So that really does show one relationship can make such a big difference for students, especially students who might be struggling at home or dealing with some sort of mental health issues especially. And I also do feel like following a violent event, districts or even states — you were talking about a layered approach — they think one change is going to make a difference or that’s not going to happen to us now because we did this one thing. But not just one effort can be made. It needs to be a comprehensive, looking at all the aspects of your school safety practices.
Jill Lemond (02:51): And to add to that, Amy, I think it’s important that you have the right voices at the table. So it’s not always only school personnel. Typically, most of our mid-range suburban school districts across this country cannot afford safety experts in their district. And then we also have these safety experts who maybe don’t have the school acumen, haven’t worked in a school environment, which is a really nuanced and different environment working with predominantly children. And so how do we marry those two practices together, the education and the security? A lot of times it’s including many different voices at the table and then meeting together at a regular cadence.
In Oxford, we did have a school safety committee that had the fire department, EMS, obviously the police and other first responders, but then other cybersecurity parents maybe or parents who had different skill sets within the community and involving those community resources together to look at things like safety plans, to look at after action reports, to look at emergency operation and crisis communication plans, because everybody’s going to bring a little different perspective to that conversation.
And thank goodness that existed in Oxford because if you’ve looked at anything recently, the response, the way in which the students, the staff, even coaches and ancillary staff and those individuals who are substitute teachers in the building, they all knew what to do in the event of a shooting. And they had a response that was really quite fantastic. Now what we’re seeing in the community, in the school security community is sort of a shift from, yes, response is important — I just highlighted how important response is — but really shifting that focus and funding and resources to prevention — to preventative measures to include social, emotional and mental health.
Amy Rock (04:39): Yeah, absolutely. And I just wanted to jump back quickly how you were saying having different people at the table. I feel as though the Stoneman Douglas incident, those students were just so adamant about being involved in their own safety after that. And I think that just showed that involving students in the discussion is so important. Like you said, they have the pulse on everything. They’re on social media constantly. They’re on their cell phones more than they should be when they’re in school. And so they’re constantly seeing what’s being posted throughout the day and at night, especially when I feel like a lot of the threats can be made after school.
Jill Lemond (05:13): Yeah, absolutely. Student voice and the safety process is incredibly important. And as a parent — I have four of my own children — I wanted to keep what happened in Oxford away from them and shelter them from that. Of course, it was my instinct, but they were all in elementary school and became aware of the incident at their own school in a nearby school district. Why is that? Our kids have greater access to information than any generation before them. And so I know a lot of districts that I’ve been in and I’ve had the honor of visiting, sometimes they’re not likely to include their student body in the conversation because they want to shelter them from that fear. And what I would say to districts who are thinking of it that way is that the students are aware. If you look at anxiety surveys, you look at the number of school counseling — referrals for anxiety, for suicidal ideation, for depression — those numbers are up across the country. Our kids know that we have a violence problem. So I don’t think it’s appropriate to keep them out of the conversation when we’ve talked about they can be the greatest wealth of information and the greatest resource in a school community.
Oxford Lessons Learned
Amy Rock (06:19): Yeah, absolutely. Well said. And now as a survivor yourself of a school shooting tragedy, what are some of the biggest lessons you and/or your school district have learned since the incident?
Jill Lemond (06:31): Yeah, absolutely. So we talked about the social-emotional health and having systems in place to regularly monitor student’s social emotional well-being; using some sort of metric that is visited systematically at a certain number of times a year to kind of get an idea of, okay, this is a student’s baseline, and then maybe something has changed, right? And what system is in place to monitor that? That’s an important piece. We talked about the multidisciplinary team on the safety side of planning, but then also when it comes to threat assessment, making sure you have different perspectives and different voices in the room — so to speak — when it comes to assessing students. And that’s not meant to be punitive. It’s not meant to get kids in trouble. Threat assessment is about helping students — helping to avert violence is part of it — but helping them get the help that they need to be not only academically successful, but also emotionally, personally successful is really the point.
And in public school settings, we are given every child. We don’t get to say who we take and who we don’t take. And some of those students don’t have the same upbringing that maybe you or I had, and they don’t have access to other adults who are taking care of them in the way that the school is able to. And so it’s a really heavy burden on our educators in across the country. I’m hearing constantly we’re asking too much of our educators and our education professionals. And I think that’s certainly leading to the holes in school, psychologists openings, school counselor openings, social workers, and then definitely educators and teachers across the country because the job has gotten that much harder. It’s that heavier of a lift, but it is important to have those systems in place and look at that vector, that intersection between suicide assessment and then threat to others, threat assessment to others.
So that’s an important interaction between those two assessments. We want to make sure we’re not criminalizing mental health issues or we’re not, again, being punitive or punishing students for having a mental health crisis, but we do have to capture that in a way to systematically help those students. And then the last thing that I had already mentioned before, but really shifting that focus from response to an incident to prevention of an incident, keeping the weapons out of the school in the first place, and early intervention in the event that students become aware of a weapon in the building.
Changes Made at Oxford Community Schools
Amy Rock (08:51): And now keeping weapons out in the first place — have there been any specific changes implemented within the district to reduce the future threat of gun violence specifically?
Jill Lemond (09:01): Absolutely. So I would say probably the two that are the most specific to weapons detection would be the Evolv Express System. Evolv does have a charitable arm that actually gifted the systems to Oxford High School after the incident. So there was no money exchange. They were given to them to help at the threshold, but then it’s also important to use your camera systems and to utilize other technology that maybe can find a brandished weapon. And there are plenty of different ways to do that. Evolv does have an option for that, but there are other others in that space who do that very well, and they did actually do that in Oxford also post-incident.
Now you’re expanding the area in which you’re looking at to the outside the perimeter of the building, number one on the cameras. You’re also looking in real-time inside the building on those cameras in case a weapon were to appear, you’d be able to follow it on the camera system. And then how do you integrate that video management system with the Evolv Express so that you’re keeping the doorways safer? And how do those things fit together? Again, we go to that comprehensive layered approach. How do all of the pieces of the safety puzzle fit together to help with prevention and response.
Recommendations for School Violence Recovery
Amy Rock (10:15): For schools that may experience gun violence in the future, what recommendations do you have for them for the recovery process?
Jill Lemond (10:24): Oh my goodness. My heart goes out to the Oxford community. It’s all of the reminders. It’s the anniversaries, it’s the court dates, it’s the investigations. It’s constantly dredging up those feelings of unrest, of unhappiness, of sadness. And a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of the victims, their families, the survivors, and then my colleagues in Oxford. I don’t know that there’s a perfect way forward, but I would say this: There are not procedures in place, at least in any district that I’m familiar with, that say what to do in the instance of tragedy as a staff member.
There are a lot of things in place of how you can help students or how a leadership team may help teachers. But speaking as someone who was in district leadership, I wish there had been an entity away for us to step away from it and deal with our own trauma as opposed to working through it. All of us were so dedicated to our community and to one another that it felt like we shouldn’t leave. We shouldn’t take time off for ourselves.
But you think about law enforcement, if you have a particularly terrible crime scene or if you discharge your weapon as a police officer, there are typically policies and procedures in those departments to ensure that you get psychological help to ensure that you’re cleared before you come back to duty. And again, as far as I know, there’s nothing like that in schools, and there certainly wasn’t in our district. And so you’re left to support one another, and I have some of my greatest friendships that came from that.
But when it comes to recovery, I do think you need outside voices who do not have the same emotional charge, not have the same connectedness to the tragedy, to help guide you through that. I was very grateful when the Oxford Resiliency Center popped up. We received a grant, a federal grant, where again, individuals with that expertise who were not connected to the school prior to the tragedy came in and were able to offer us mental health support. That was invaluable. I would just hope that that happens almost immediately in these communities. And there’s help for those of us who are trying to lead through tragedy.
Amy Rock (12:32): And so many schools themselves are so short of social workers and any guidance counselors. So having that outside support, while these guidance counselors are going through their own trauma and dealing with the event, they shouldn’t be expected to be able to provide this counseling to these students when they were going through it as well. So bringing outside resources is so important.
Jill Lemond (12:56): And Amy, you feel very defensive. It’s your community, it’s your people. And so I wouldn’t even say there was a willingness from many of us in leadership to invite others in because you feel very insulated and you want to be with one another. And how do you know that those individuals who are coming in have positive intent? The number of individuals that threatened the district, threatened individual staff members or just left crazy phone messages or email messages from around the country, from around the world — we had some that were from out of the country — is really overwhelming and jarring and bizarre. And it’s like most of us, at least speaking for myself, I have no training in how to handle something like that. And so I do think access to resources and systems in place nationally, federally, to help schools through a tragedy, are important. I was very grateful when we received those resources personally.
Amy Rock (13:53): One thing I wanted to note that I find important that Campus Safety tries to follow, aside from the initial naming maybe of a perpetrator, we don’t name them in our writing because, A) you don’t want them to get name recognition, but B) if someone from the community is reading it, that must be a trigger for so many people. So we always try and say “the perpetrator” or “the shooter” or we just avoid saying the person’s name because we’re hoping that Campus Safety is a good resource for people who in your community are looking for support moving forward. And if they’re reading our stuff and having to see someone’s name associated with something so traumatic, that’s just terrible.
Jill Lemond (14:35): Absolutely. That’s such a wonderful point and I appreciate it. I want people to know about Hana. I want them to know Justin’s name and Madisyn and Tate, but they should never perseverate on the shooter’s name. Don’t ever put it in print. I don’t ever say it when I’m out speaking. To your point, that actually gives notoriety and it can be incredibly difficult and painful for those of us who experienced to read or to hear. And I would advocate, please stop naming the shooters. Not only the shooter in Oxford, but in all of these instances, in many cases, it’s what they’re looking for is that fame.
How Can Parents Help Reduce Gun Violence Threats?
Amy Rock (15:13): Yeah, for sure. And now obviously we were saying teachers have so much more responsibility and not enough pay. That’s a story for a different day, but the responsibility shouldn’t and can’t be completely placed on schools. I feel like there’s a significant amount of parents that are send their kids to school and think, “Oh, the school’s going to parent them, essentially.” But what are ways you believe parents can help reduce the threat of gun violence?
Jill Lemond (15:42): Well, certainly being included in being aware of your students’ grades, of your child’s academic community, but also their social-emotional community, who are their friends, being tuned in and aware of your child, their surroundings and their day-to-day activities. But then also finding ways to help your child feel like they belong in their school environment, finding whether it’s an intramural club, it’s a sport, it’s an academic club — something that helps a student to feel tethered to that school community. We see over and over again, school shooters don’t have those tethers in most instances. Statistically speaking, they don’t feel a part of the school community. They don’t feel like they belong. And so how does your child feel? Check in with your child. Do they feel like they belong? Do they feel like they have an adult at school that they could go to if they had a problem?
Are they aware of the anonymous reporting system in your state or in your area? Do they know what to do if something were to happen? Not only pre-event to prevent it, but then also in response, are they trained in whatever your active shooter protocols are in that school district? Talk to them about it. It can be an uncomfortable conversation. I’ve had it with my own child, my oldest child, because I feel like she’s at an age now where we can have it, where it’s more appropriate to speak to her about school safety, but empowering your child to make those decisions for themselves and encouraging them to listen to their inner voice.
There’s a really powerful book called The Gift of Fear. It talks about us listening to our own instincts, our own natural instincts that tell us when to be afraid or when something doesn’t feel quite right. Then again, what do I do as a child if that occurs? Am I empowered to do something about it and make an impact and change the way something may or may not occur? Really just be included in tuning in to your children and how can you help the school and maybe that safety committee? Have you looked at your school’s processes and policies? Do you have any personal expertise or know anyone in the community who can help? It really does take a village, for lack of a better term.
Amy Rock (17:44): And it’s nice in a way that everything like grades for most schools are online, so children can’t really hide academic struggles, which can often be a sign that they’re struggling with something else, which could eventually lead to acting out of some sort. So just like you said, being involved in your child’s academic life, even if they don’t want you to be, it’s just super important.
Jill Lemond (18:10): Well, and during COVID, when our students were not able to go to schools, we saw how much more than education our schools were providing, right? They were providing lunches and breakfast and meals for students who maybe didn’t have those resources at home. They were providing those adult relationships and that positivity and that self-confidence for students helping them through anxiety and through other types of emotional issues that maybe their parents don’t have the same acumen to help guide them through. And then the number of CPS reports — schools are mandatory reporters — in the absence of going to school, we saw an increase in domestic violence and in child abuse hospitalizations across the country. And so we know our teachers and our food service workers and our transportation folks, everyone in that school environment is providing a heck of a lot more than education to a child. And that’s really important work. And so how do we support those individuals? How do we make schools a place that’s safer for them as well physically when it comes to gun violence, but also emotionally?
How Students Can Advocate for Their Own Safety in School
Amy Rock (19:14): Now it’s different for every age because for some ages it’s not appropriate, but is there anything students themselves can do to reduce the threat of gun violence? We talked about what parents can do, but is there anything that a student can do themselves?
Jill Lemond (19:31): It always has to do with that sense of belongingness and that sense of kindness at a very basic level to their fellow students and helping them feel like they have someone to talk to, helping connect other students to resources if they need to. And I hate to put any kind of responsibility on the students, but in the event that a student does hear something or experience something that makes them uncomfortable, really empowering them to report that information — whether that’s to an adult that they trust or through an anonymous reporting system. I think that that is the way for students to really be involved. And also in safety planning. We talked about student voice on that multidisciplinary safety team for the district. Many districts are choosing to have a student designee on that committee and really talking about what it’s like to go to school there. Who else can give that voice to the conversation?
Amy Rock (20:20): I think being in this industry, we were saying we see that nearly all shooters, like you said, have a hard time making connections. So I try being in this industry and seeing this every day and working with it, my son, he is only five, but I try to say to him, “If there’s someone who’s playing alone, ask them to join you.” Stuff like that you can tell your five-year-old — include people, everyone needs friends. And I think that’s so important because that’s such an age where you grow so much and if you’re feeling isolated, it’s only going to get worse as a child gets older. So just teaching your kids at a young age, empathy, is just so important.
Jill Lemond (21:03): Absolutely.
Oxford Is Every Town, USA
Amy Rock (21:06): It’s so important to be open about lessons learned with these incidents because we know unfortunately it’ll happen again somewhere. So I just wanted to say thank you for sharing. I know it can’t be easy to talk about, but we just need to be open after any of these incidents about lessons learned to try and prevent, like you said, most importantly, but also mitigate any damage that can be done if something is to happen. So I really appreciate you speaking openly about it.
Jill Lemond (21:34): Thank you for giving it the coverage, and I’m hopeful that other administrators and school professionals and security professionals continue to have these conversations to get better together.
Amy Rock (21:44): My mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law are all teachers, so I’m very familiar with just how important of a job it is. And I actually live in the town that I grew up with. And so when incidents like this happen, I often think if it’s to happen in our town, the amount of people I know in the school system that would be impacted, it’s just important to have a sense of community for if something like that does happen. And it sounds like you have that within Oxford, which is great.
Jill Lemond (22:13): Absolutely. What really wasn’t reported on it, being a smaller town with a single high school, Oxford’s Every Town, USA, where people come on Thursday nights to concerts in the park, and you can find grandparents and multi-generations at the football games throughout the community. So many were impacted by this horribly violent incident. And not only those who were in the building but board members and community business owners.
And there’s such a connectedness in a town like that because your school becomes the hub for the community. Some of our elementary administrators had their own children in the high school that day. Some of us on cabinet had children in the building that day. My own two sons were not in that building, but they were in the preschool on a nearby campus in Oxford, because many of us who are educators or in leadership also sent our children there. And so something like this, just the tentacles, the emotional interconnectedness of this tragedy is hard to explain or describe. And we’ve needed one another throughout litigation, throughout public scrutiny, media, and really everyone’s judgment throughout this entire endeavor. We’ve leaned on one another and I’m very grateful for that community.
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