Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
School officials at Harbor Lights Middle School flagged a Holland,
Michigan boy as potentially dangerous because the 12-year-old suggested
to a teacher that one way to prevent school shootings would be to arm
Derek Loutzenheiser, a model student who had such good grades that
some teachers recommended he be tested early for a popular standardized
pre-college performance test, made his comments in early March, after
being asked by a social studies teacher what he thought might make kids
safer in school.
Derek had been asked to participate in a classroom discussion about
“school shootings and safety,” said the sixth grader’s father, Tim
“My son simply stated that his opinion was that he would feel safer
if some of the adults at the school were trained and allowed to carry
firearms,” Mr. Loutzenheiser told WorldNetDaily.
His reply caused him to be “flagged” as a potential violence risk by
teachers and school administrators, who then contacted his parents to
suggest they meet with the school’s “Hazard and Risk Assessment Team.”
“My wife and I were in disbelief when they (school officials)
telephoned us and told us that’s what they wanted to do,” Loutzenheiser
said. “We asked, ‘Do you have the right kid?’”
In resulting talks with school officials, Loutzenheiser said he
learned that his son “often spoke favorably about the First and Second
Amendments, but the comment he made to his Social Studies teacher was
the one that triggered this action.”
School officials told the couple that because of Derek’s comments he
should be separated from the other students and forced to enter the
school’s “Mentor” program, where he would be studied by an adult
supervisor who would monitor Derek’s thought processes.
“We were told that this would be in the best interest of my son, and
by doing this the school would not have to involve Social Services,”
Loutzenheiser said. “We refused.”
At that point, the couple contacted an attorney in nearby Grand
Rapids, Michigan — one referred to them through the National Rifle
Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. The couple has also been told by a representative
from the Rutherford Institute, an
international legal and educational civil liberties organization, that
“they would be willing to take on this issue.”
Loutzenheiser said when he and his wife, Shelly, arrived for the
Hazard Team meeting Mar. 8, “We were outnumbered 7 to 2.” He told
WorldNetDaily that he wanted to make a good first impression with the
members, so he shook each member’s hand and introduced himself.
He also told them he had brought along a tape recorder and would be
taping the proceedings since none of the legal organizations that said
they would represent him could send a representative to the meeting on
such short notice.
“My wife and I both saw a transformation from ‘smugness’ … to looks
of great concern on some of their faces,” he said.
“What was odd about the purpose of this whole meeting,” said
Loutzenheiser, “was that three of the team members were Derek’s
teachers, and each of them said they didn’t know there was any
‘situation’ with him. That got me to thinking, ‘Then why are we here?’”
However, and though “team” members denied it, the elder Loutzenheiser
said he believes teachers and school administrative personnel began to
form a bad impression of his son when, in January of this year, the
sixth grader refused to sign a “Red Letter” vow of peace to celebrate
Martin Luther King’s birthday.
“The letter, which was written by the principal,” Loutzenheiser said,
“asked the students to take an oath to turn in their friends for
suspicious activity, to vow to never defend themselves if attacked, and
something to the effect of never to use a gun or other weapons. Derek
simply told the principal, ‘I’m not signing that.’
“I think that’s what got him ‘noticed’ by some of the administrative
staff at least,” he said.
Of the meeting with “team” members, Loutzenheiser said, “We got right
to the point and determined that the charges against my son are without
merit. They all assured me that he is a wonderful student, gets straight
A’s, and because he is a little more advanced academically (at their
suggestion he took the ACT test and scored very well) they feel he may
need an ‘adult’ to talk to about issues.”
Loutzenheiser admitted he didn’t know what team members were implying
about having Derek “talk to an adult about issues.” He added, “We were
able to determine that because my son knows and understands political
and Constitutional issues so well, that he often speaks in terms not
typical of a 12-year-old, and we should be assured they have no issues
The couple believes Derek’s Social Studies teacher was the impetus
for the inquiry.
“She felt concern when Derek stated — when she asked — that he
would feel safer if some of the adults would be trained and have access
to firearms at school,” said Derek’s father. “Because this teacher felt
this [was an] irrational threat, she spoke to other ‘team’ members who
are also Derek’s teachers.”
The couple said they discovered that there had been a series of
similar misunderstandings involving some of the things Derek had said in
school — none of which were threatening or dangerous.
One teacher, said Loutzenheiser, stated that he heard Derek speak of
taking the hunter’s safety course — which was offered through the
school — and that Derek sometimes spoke about how he liked hunting.
Another teacher said that in her class, where his son helps write the
school paper, he was tasked with reviewing a video game. The teacher, he
said, felt that the game might contain violence but didn’t feel
“concern” until “after she spoke with the ‘team.’”
One of the vice principals, the couple said, also felt Derek may need
some “mentoring” because he was “attacked by three older students last
September, in which Derek fought back and deterred his attackers on
school property,” Loutzenheiser said.
“They (school officials) wanted to reinforce how understanding they
were, in light of the fact that the school has a zero tolerance policy
– no fighting even in self defense — and how Derek was not punished in
any way for defending himself,” Loutzenheiser said.
However, his wife Shelly had inquired of teachers and school
officials just a day before the meeting occurred, and “there were no
issues yesterday, but they seemed to remember some today,” he said.
“We also asked them why, if these problems were so terrible, no one
had bothered to pick up the phone and call us before it came to this,”
More disturbing to the couple was the school’s constant alluding to
“a list” — ostensibly the same “list” their son, Derek, was on, albeit
“No one really explained what this ‘list’ was,” Loutzenheiser said,
“but from the sound of it, if you raised anyone’s eyebrows at the school
– for any reason — you made this ‘list.’”
Jerry Klomparens, principal of Harbor Lights Middle School, told
WorldNetDaily he could not discuss cases or incidents involving specific
children. However, he spoke briefly about the school’s “Mentor Program”
policies, and said they were only administered after school officials
obtained permission from a student’s parents.
“We believe any educational processes must first come from parents,”
Klomparens said. “This program is only designed to help parents” meet
special needs of certain students.
The principal explained that Harbor Lights uses the mentoring program
to “match students who have particular interests up with teachers or
adults (who are volunteers) who have similar interests.”
When asked about the so-called “list” that Loutzenheiser mentioned,
Klomparens reiterated that it was school policy “not to discuss the
status of our students.” He also said it was possible that some errors
may have been made in the past in explaining the “mentor” program to
“It’s not a real formal program,” he said, adding that sometimes
teachers suggest students whom they believe would benefit from it. Other
than having mutual interests, Klomparens said neither teacher nor adult
volunteer mentors have received any special training or qualifications.
But the Loutzenheisers remain unconvinced.
“Each of these people on the ‘team’ probably had no issue with Derek,
but by virtue of assembling together and talking, they were able to feed
upon each others’ concerns, no matter how small, and allowed them to
grow,” said Tim Loutzenheiser. “We’re convinced that Derek will now be
placed under a microscope for observation more than ever.”