School board reexamines weapons policy in Sumner County

SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Summer County School Board is reexamining its weapons policy in regard to parental notifications.

Namely, should school officials notify parents when any weapon is found on school grounds?

School spokesman Jeremy Johnson told News 2 it’s a more difficult decision than some may think.

“Striking the balance between keeping the parents informed about what’s going on in their school and our ability to manage an incident and not create a further panic by releasing too much information,” Johnson said.

The discussion was prompted after a November 2014 incident when officials at Gene Brown Elementary discovered a .38 caliber handgun on a student.

The boy reportedly told school officials he did not intend to use the gun.

A note was not sent home to parents because neither police nor school officials determined there was a threat to any student or the school as a whole.

Deborah Vinson told News 2 in March that she only learned of the incident from her third grade son who told her about it.

She told News 2 she was unable to get any additional information from the school and soon learned that Sumner County did not have a policy regarding communicating with parents, as each incident is handled on a case-by-case basis.

“We need to have something in the policy that defines when we are going to talk about it,” Vinson said Thursday. “Pertaining to a gun, I think whether it’s operational or intent or not, that is something parents need to know about.”

But Johnson said there are situations that may alarm parents unnecessarily.

“Say perhaps a kid brings a pocket knife to school. Those are the things you’ve got to ask about. Does that represent a larger danger to your school community? Is it something you should notify parents about or is that something that should be handled discretely?” he explained.

The school board is drafting a policy that will still allow principals discretion with each situation but will be instructed to consider several factors before making a decision on when to contact parents.

According to the proposed policy those factors will include.

Was the threat specific to an individual group of individuals or the larger school community?
Was the threat credible based on the assessment of law enforcement officials?
Is the threat potentially a criminal act that could impact the system’s ability to release information to parents and the general public?
The age, maturity, and intent of the student involved to commit an act inflicting death or serious bodily injury.

The board will hear discussion at the next board meeting on April 21. Johnson told News 2 the new policy will be in place and included in the handbook for the next school year.

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