Salvo 05.16.2024 4 minutes

Shutting Out Parents

Businessman kicked out of the door

Who’s accountable when violence happens?

In an unprecedented recent case, the parents of school shooter Ethan Crumbley were each sentenced to prison sentences of 10 to 15 years. James and Jennifer Crumbley sat in a Pontiac, Michigan, courtroom on April 9 as each were sentenced on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in relation to their son’s killing of four Oxford High School classmates in 2021.

The couple each received the maximum penalty possible of 15 years imprisonment. Both will be eligible for parole after 10 years served.

The court found Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan’s mother, to have been a negligent parent for largely ignoring the signs her troubled son exhibited prior to the killings. Ethan—who has already been sentenced to life in prison—had told his parents he needed help with his mental problems. His mother was busy with work, currying her horse, and pursuing an extramarital love life. James Crumbley was found to have given a handgun to his son as an early Christmas gift two days before the shootings without properly securing it.

There is now concern that this precedent will be used going forward to charge not just parents of mass shooters, but parents whose minor children commit any range of gun crimes.

But given the current culture within America’s justice system and its big city prosecutors’ offices, it is unlikely that district attorneys will now go after the parents of black Chicago teenagers who shoot their rivals. It is more likely that this new precedent will apply selectively, especially when it can support a leftist narrative—involving white culprits and legally purchased firearms—in the wake of a tragic event.

If, however, the standard were applied evenly, you would probably find many conservatives who agree with the ruling and the sentence in the Crumbleys’ case. Indeed, parents should know as much as they possibly can know about their children so that they can take steps to prevent them from harming themselves or others.

School Districts Must Keep Parents in the Dark

Meanwhile, courts around the country are dealing with a different form of parental ignorance of their children’s behavior at school. Except in these cases, schools are pushing to keep parents in the dark, regardless of the impact it could have on the health and safety of the child or others. 

In one increasingly common type of case, on July 11, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a lawsuit against Chico Unified School District (CUSD). The suit was brought by a parent who challenged the school district’s administrative regulation involving what it defines as a transgender student. The parent who filed the suit in Regino v. Staley alleged that the regulation “permits school personnel to socially transition students expressing a transgender identity,” and it bars school personnel from informing parents of this transition “unless the student expressly authorizes them to do so.”

The parent’s lawsuit maintained that the school district regulation infringes on due process and the First Amendment right to familial associations.

For anyone keeping score, this means that if your son shoots up a school, you can go to prison for not knowing what he was up to beforehand, and for not proactively doing something about it. But if your son thinks he’s your daughter and doesn’t want you to know, not only does his school not have to tell you, but it may be forbidden to tell you.

When a Gender-Confused Student Is High Risk

In April, Montgomery County (Maryland) Police arrested a biological female, transgender high school student who was reportedly planning to commit a school shooting. The 18-year-old student named Andrea Ye, who goes by the name “Alex,” allegedly penned a 129-page manifesto which laid out her plan to attack an elementary school.

The Andrea Ye case is discomfortingly similar to the March 2023 shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, when a transman and school alumnus killed three students and three adults before being shot and killed herself. The shooter, Aiden Hale, had also written a manifesto, which has yet to be publicly released.

It is not clear in this case what Ye’s parents may or may not have known, but this situation illustrates that gender-confused students are also at risk of causing harm to themselves and others. It is possible that the same mental instability that plays a role in gender confusion could contribute to other more violent means of potentially acting out. And when they do, as the Crumbley case reinforces, society relies on the parents as the first line of defense.

But school systems and the courts effectively want to create impractical silos enforced by the rule of law. They want to hold parents accountable for the actions of their children, while actively and systemically working to hide critical information about their children’s mental health which could potentially contribute to a horrific act of violence.

Which should it be? Should parents be held accountable? Regardless, don’t they have the right to know everything the school district knows about their child?

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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