The Woodward News

March 28, 2012

Boy arrested for having 'plastic gun' at school

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

— A 9-year-old boy was arrested at a Woodward elementary school Monday after an airsoft pistol was found in his backpack.

Woodward Police Det. Lt. Chuck Wheeler said the boy, who is a student at Cedar Heights Elementary, was arrested on charges of "unlawfully carrying a weapon on school property."

Although it was determined that the item in the boy's possession was "a plastic gun" which shoots small, round plastic projectiles, Wheeler said, "at first glance it appears to be a real semiautomatic handgun."

The detective said the airsoft gun was found after "this young man had told another student (about the gun) and the other student told an adult teacher at the school."

However both Wheeler and Woodward Public Schools Superintendent Tim Merchant said they don't believe the gun was intentionally brought to the school.

"I think he may have just had it in his backpack from the weekend," the detective said.

"We do feel it was accidentally brought to school," Merchant said.

The superintendent said he wanted to assure parents of Cedar Heights students as well as the community as a whole that "no one was under any kind of a threat" when the gun was discovered.

"We want to assure everyone that at no point were any students or staff in danger," he said.

Following the arrest, the 9-year-old was taken to the Community Intervention Center (CIC) and "turned over to their custody,"  Wheeler said.  According to the Office of Juvenile Affairs website www.state.ok.us/~oja/cic.htm, CICs "provide a place for law enforcement officers to drop off juvenile(s) that have been arrested in order that the officer may return to their other duties" while the juvenile waits to be released to his or her "parent or other responsible person."



ARREST A MATTER OF POLICY

Wheeler said the boy's arrest was made based on the school's "policy against carrying things like that on school grounds."

The Woodward Public School's policy manual states: "It is the policy of the Woodward Board of Education that possession of dangerous instruments or weapons on school property ….  Dangerous instruments or weapons include, but are not limited to, firearms (guns), fire-works, explosives, knives, razors, clubs, chains, or other instruments used for assault or injury. …  Students found to be in violation of this policy will be suspended and the police will be notified."

Merchant explained how that policy is enforced.

"If we have any type of suspicion (of a student having a weapon on school property), the student would be isolated and the school resource officer would be contacted immediately," the superintendent said, noting those actions "are just a safety protocol to protect other students."

The school resource officer, who is a Woodward Police Department officer assigned to handle incidents within the school district, will then conduct a search, Merchant said.  

If a weapon is discovered, "then disciplinary measures are taken on a case by case basis."

"But very possibly an arrest could be made at that point and time," he said.

The school district would also take it's own disciplinary measures, which Merchant said, "generally speaking the automatic school discipline is some form of suspension."

However, the degree and length of suspension "depends on the type of weapon and the situation surrounding it," he said.

'"It could be for one day up to one calendar year," he said of how long the student could be suspended.  As far as degree of suspension, he said the student may have to serve in-school suspension or be placed in alternative education setting or could face out-of-school suspension.

Merchant said he "couldn't discuss" what kind of suspension, if any, was given to the student in Monday's incident.  He said he wasn't allowed to discuss specifics of the incident "because of confidentiality rules" under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

But while the level of discipline is decided on a case by case basis, Merchant said "when it comes to making those decisions, first and foremost thing that comes to mind is the safety of our students and our staff."

That is why he said the disciplinary decisions are made while "at all times supporting and standing for a zero tolerance policy when it does come to weapons at school."



PARENTS WERE NOTIFIED

The superintendent described Monday's incident involving the discovery of the airsoft pistol as "a very unfortunate incident, but I feel Mrs. Yeager and her staff handled the situation very professionally."  

That included sending notification of the incident to parents of Cedar Heights students, he said.

"A brief description was sent out to all parents, of Cedar Heights kids, through our AlertNow message system," he said.

The following is the message that was delivered by phone via AlertNow:

"This is Sharon Yeager, Principal of CH Elem. I need to make you aware of a situation that occurred at school today. A student brought a BB gun to school in his backpack. The student and the BB gun were removed from the classroom. Our school resource officer was contacted; the student and the weapon were   removed from the building. At no time were our students at risk or threatened. The safety of our students and staff will always be our utmost priority.  The District and I are working together and taking appropriate actions to deal with this matter."

Merchant said the notification was made "to alleviate any kind of fear because sometime things get rolling out on the rumor mill, so parents were contacted reassuring them that at no time were their children in danger."

The superintendent said the district implemented the AlertNow rapid notification service "at the first of last year," making this the second school year that the district has utilized the service.

He explained that "when a student's enrolled, the parents are automatically entered into the system."

When The News spoke with Merchant around noon on Tuesday, he said he had not received any concerned calls from parents in the district regarding Monday's incident.

"That's a big part of why we use the AlertNow system, it's a great communication tool for a situation like this," he said.

In addition, he said the alert system is also useful when notifying parents of "everyday things," like sending out reminders for parent-teacher conferences or spreading the word about school closures due to inclement weather.

"And if there is ever an emergency situation where we had to do a lockdown, we could get a hold of parents very quickly and notify them of the situation.  It's just a great communication tool," Merchant said.