Board revises weapons policy

Published 9:44 pm Thursday, June 13, 2013

School Board members moved Thursday to give principals discretionary power in punishing students for weapons policy violations.

The policy changes, approved unanimously, were in response to a controversy last month in which two 7-year-old boys were suspended from Driver Elementary School.

The boys were punished for “shooting” each other with pencils while pretending to be Marines.

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The new rules empower the principal, principal’s designee, superintendent or School Board to decide punishment other than mandatory expulsion “based on the facts of a particular case.”

While bringing a weapon on school property or to a school-sponsored activity previously attracted a minimum expulsion of one calendar year, punishment can now include expulsion up to a year, confiscation of the weapon, parent conference, notice of warning, in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension.

Factors to be considered include the student’s age, the intent to harm or injure, and whether the student possessed a weapon as described in the revised policy.

Changes add unloaded firearms in closed containers, air rifles or BB guns, bowie knives, switchblade knives, ballistic knives, machetes and razors to the list of what’s considered a weapon.

The amended policy still does not include ordinary objects used by students pretending they are weapons.

Other factors to be considered include whether the student possessed an object “that would cause a reasonable person to believe it was in fact a weapon” as defined in the policy, and whether the student possessed an object that, though not fitting an actual weapon description, was still intended to be used to inflict harm or injury.

“I sign off on this because I think you are putting the responsibility back into the hands of the principal … who should be given this responsibility,” board member Enoch Copeland said.

The new policy allows discipline “on a case-by-case basis, based on the situation and considering other factors,” district Superintendent Deran Whitney said.

Principals and assistant principals will be familiarized with the changes during the administrative retreat in July, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Alston said.

The board initiated the policy review after the school district weathered heavy criticism in response to the Driver Elementary case.

Parents across the country let their voices be heard, and the school district reported a barrage of “very strong and mean-spirited” emails and phone calls, some profanity-laced.