Accountability Starts at Home

I was one of those college seniors without a clear plan of what I wanted to do next. To make matters worse, this was 2010, about a year and a half into the Great Recession. Jobs were scarce; I had watched all my friends from the year above me accept their degrees and promptly move back in with their parents because no one was hiring. My impending graduation felt less like the light at the end of the tunnel and more like the drain I’d circled as long as I could.

In an attempt to kick the can of big decisions down the road a little, I applied to Teach for America. I got a phone interview. Amid the barrage of standard interview questions and other inquiries designed more to eliminate bad candidates than select good ones, one made me stop and think: “Who do you think is ultimately responsible for a student’s success, teachers or parents?”

After a moment’s deliberation, I answered, “Probably parents. Obviously, teachers have to do their jobs. But between homework, studying for tests, writing papers, and all the work that students have to do at home, teachers can only do so much once students are out of the building.”

The interviewer thanked me, and we moved on. A couple weeks later, I got an email informing me that, unfortunately, they’d chosen not to move forward with my application.

I understand now that, as a candidate for a teaching position, I should have answered the question differently. Teachers who approach their job with the attitude of “I can only do so much” will only go so far. However, as a human being, I still very much maintain that a stable, supportive home environment impacts students more than the world’s best teacher ever could.

On Nov. 30, 2021, an active shooter incident at Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., claimed the lives of four students and injured seven more people, including a teacher. The teenage suspect was arrested without incident. I’m sorry to admit that my first reaction to hearing the news was, “Well, here we go again”—after all, with more than 120 reports of gunfire on school property between August and November 2021, according to U.S. News, it was hard to imagine that this one would play out any differently.

And then, a few days later, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald announced plans to charge the suspect’s parents in connection with the violence. Reports have since revealed that the suspect’s parents bought him the gun as an early Christmas present less than a week prior to the shooting. They’ve revealed that a teacher caught the suspect researching ammunition on his phone, informed his parents, and that his mother texted her son, “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” They’ve revealed that the parents were called into school for a meeting regarding his behavior just hours before the shooting took place but resisted the suggestion to pull him out of school for the day.

The suspect’s parents have since been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter each. As of this writing, the incident is still in its early stages of investigation. There might very well be more nuance, extenuating circumstances or additional facts that come to light to provide a clearer picture of what happened.

But amid the talk of access control, emergency communication plans, visitor management, active shooter drills, weapon detection technology, and more, it seems like there’s only so much that schools and the security industry can do when parents buy their troubled teenager a handgun and tell him, “Don’t get caught.”

This article originally appeared in the January / February 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.