Students and families who survived the November 2021 Oxford High School shooting in Michigan have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Oxford Community School District, as well as the district's superintendent, school principal, student dean and student counselor. The lawsuit is one of at least five filed after four students died and seven were injured in the Oxford shooting.
The lawsuit claims school leaders "compounded the danger to all students" when they released the shooter, Ethan Crumbley, from the counselor's office and back to class, and "acted with deliberate indifference and created and/or increased the risk of a school shooting."
Rather than pursuing damages, plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek an independent investigation into the events leading up to the shooting and for district leaders to take measures to ensure administrators are trained to handle suicidal students when they have probable cause of deadly violence and to promote transparency in district communication with parents and students at Oxford High School.
The lawsuit, filed June 17 in U.S. District Court, said students and families are suing "under the most tragic of circumstances … as a final attempt to salvage what time remains of their high school careers" and to "restore their right to a full public education."
Mass shootings have commonly led to lawsuits against school officials, law enforcement, perpetrators and their families, gun manufacturers, and government entities.
In March, survivors and families of 16 victims of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, settled 40 civil lawsuits for almost $130 million with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Parkland families had sought wrongful death damages for what they claimed was the FBI's negligence in handling tips about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz.
Most recently, the May 24 massacre at Uvalde's Robb Elementary School led a Texas senator to sue Texas' Department of Public Safety. Another case has been filed by parents of Uvalde survivors who sued for damages against the suspected shooter's estate. And a third could be filed against the gun manufacturer—as the lawyers who won a case against the manufacturer of the rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings have reportedly been retained by the father of a Uvalde victim.
The outcome of such lawsuits, however, have been mixed. In the 1999 Columbine school shooting, for example, many lawsuits were dismissed on the grounds of government immunity. They included multiple lawsuits against Jefferson County School District, where Columbine High School was located.
On the other hand, a case against the school district of Red Lake High School in Minnesota's Red Lake Indian Reservation, site of a 2005 shooting, led to a successful $1 million lawsuit against the school district on behalf of the victims' families.
In the wake of the Oxford shooting, safety experts warned of schools’ responsibility and role in school shootings. These experts also stressed the importance of communication and partnership between administrators and parents in preventing such incidents.
In past school shootings, parents, schools and even law enforcement agencies have passed the buck when they could have appropriately responded to red flags, said Ron Avi Astor, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles Luskin School of Public Affairs and Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Astor, who spoke with K-12 Dive on the topic in December and most recently after the Uvalde shooting, has a Ph.D. in school safety.
“I think they all hold a level of responsibility," Astor said.