Relationship Between Guidance and Administration at the Core of the Michigan Shooting
As the details of the deadly Michigan school shooting became known, it struck the core of every administrator and guidance counselor who has ever worked in K-12 education over the last 20 plus years. The most disturbing of all the details was the realization that the would-be shooter was identified and questioned on the same day. This detail is the most personally excruciating of all of those who have participated in such meetings and brings to question the relationship between guidance and administration . The sad truth is that this scenario plays itself out each and every day all across the nation. A teacher, staff member or student identifies concerning behavior and reports it to either the administration or to a guidance counselor. The student, usually in the presence of the SRO, is then questioned. Parents are notified and appropriate action taken. It is the absolute worst nightmare of any counselor or administrator that the final part of that scenario (appropriate action taken) not be the end of the scenario.
While the outrage ensues regarding the responsibility of the school system, as educators, we should ask why this happened. One possible explanation is that of the normal hustle and bustle of the typical school day. Most non-educators could not begin to comprehend this, but the reality is that when the morning bell rings and the doors open, it is constant craziness throughout the day. But when you combine that with questions about the relationship between guidance and the administration, we have a more likely explanation.
The most striking bit of information to come out of the Michigan school shooting tragedy is that that the counselor and Dean of Students did not notify the administration. This leads to more inquiry as to why. No one really knows why, but it is significant that such information would not be relayed to at least an Assistant Principal. The fact that it wasn’t reported would indicate a breakdown in roles of responsibility or, at least, bring into question the working relationship between guidance and the administration. Most counselors in that situation would notify the Assistant Principal almost immediately, but, in this case, it didn’t happen. Why?
Those who have served in these roles can easily identify the sometimes tug of war that goes back and forth between guidance and administration. Many times, administrators are reluctant to become involved in such situations because it is seen as a mental health/counseling issue at that point. In some cases, the counselors do not want to report such instances to an administrator because they are sometimes met with resistance from the administrator with a “what do want me to do” type of response. Whatever the case here, the relationship between the two functions of the school is a key component of this tragic event.
Guidance counselors often feel “dumped on” in the course of the school day and year. They not only need to attend to the social and emotional needs of the students, but they also need to work with each student on their caseload with course and career planning and much more. When there are only a few (Two to four depending on the size of the school) counselors in each school it can be quite overwhelming for these individuals.
How, then, could this possibly result in the tragedy that it did? Simply put, concerns brought forth of students threatening violence are, unfortunately, a routine part of many guidance counselors’ already crazy day.
Most administrators and counselors can most likely recall dozens of such interaction dealing with students who were brough to the office for such issues. These include inappropriate comments regarding violence, drawings, and most of the time, social media posts. This type of investigation goes on every day, all day across the entire country. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that since the shooting, there has, and continues to be, threats of violence in “copycat” scenarios. Some schools in the Michigan area shut downbecause of the anxiety and concern caused by such threats. So just think of how many of those scenarios are resulting in just what the Oxford Counselor faced; meeting with parents and other school officials trying to determine the credibility of the threat. Surely, there have been several of them that have ended in parents being notified and counseling recommended.
Shortly after the incident occurred, the Superintendent of Oxford, Tim Throne, stated in his letter to the communitythat the situation “…..remained at the guidance counselor level and (was) never elevated to the principal or assistant principal’s office.” This is a crucial statement in that it plain and simply points the finger right at the Counselor and the Dean of Students. It is unfortunate that he saw the need to make such a public statement. This is the equivalent to throwing the counselor to the wolves. Not an act of strong leadership. It speaks to the relationship between guidance and administration in his very school district. Why was it not brought to the administration? What was the counselor afraid of? Was their improper or incomplete training for such matters? Were there no protocols in place? What about the role of the “Dean of Students?” Why did the counselor feel that s/he would need to deal with this situation without contacting the administration?
Why wasn’t the student searched? A logical conclusion would be that, in most states, counselors are not legally permitted to conduct such searches. Even so, we are then back to “why wasn’t someone who could conduct a search notified?” Indeed, why not? Again, for this, we should examine the roles, responsibilities and relationships of the administration and guidance before we draw any further conclusions.
So, before we assign all the blame to the counselor in the Michigan school shooting, we should answer these questions first, and then we can see the dynamic in play here that put this counselor out on an island. As professionals we owe it to this counselor to fully understand all of the angles of this tragic incident.
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The MEN was founded by John Huber in the fall of 2020. It was founded to provide a platform for expert opinion and commentary on current issues that directly or indirectly affect education. All opinions are valued and accepted providing they are expressed in a professional manner. The Maryland Education Network consists of Blogs, Videos, and other interaction among the K-12 community.