CLAYTON — Parents are disappointed and confused about how they found out that a student brought a gun to Clayton Middle School.
In an effort not to “frighten parents,” the school system sent home a note with students that said an “inappropriate item” was found on campus, according to spokeswoman Tracey Peedin Jones.
One parent, Erin Vlack, said she talked with several other parents and they all thought the “inappropriate item” may have been drugs. Some parents heard through friends who are teachers that it was a gun. Other parents said they heard from their children when they got in the car after school that one of their classmates had brought a gun. None of them found out from the school, unless they called, and even then, some had trouble getting through.
“I do trust Clayton Middle School, but it’s because of that trust that I feel like ‘why wouldn’t you just tell us?,’ ” Vlack said. “I think the parents need an open forum to sit and talk with the school.”
Johnston County Schools superintendent Dr. Ed Croom said the school was purposeful when it did not identify the item as a gun, “We did not want to create alarm with children who did not know what it was without their parents being there with them,” Croom said.
He said he expected parents who wanted more information to give him a call. Croom said he does not plan to change the protocol for future incidents. “If it were to happen tomorrow at a different school, that’s exactly what we would sent out.”
Croom said Clayton Middle School principal Stephen Baker has gotten between 45 and 50 calls from parents about the incident and he said Baker has talked with each of them.
School board member Donna White was more receptive to feedback from parents. She said the school “would take a look at how it handled the situation and may handle the situation differently in the future.” The decision of how to communicate with parents is ultimately left up to the school, not the school board, however. White said she understands parents’ concerns about the safety of their children, but emphasized that the school did everything in its capacity to make sure the children were safe.
Parents have praised the school for its quick response to getting the gun off campus.
“They did everything but the communication part correctly,” said Vlack. “It shouldn’t have taken Facebook or the news for them to just tell us what happened.”
“At no point in time were students unsafe,” said Jones, the school system spokeswoman. She said the gun was not loaded and was “inoperable.”
The student, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, was issued a juvenile petition, charging him with possession of a weapon on campus. The student will now have to appear in juvenile court.
The student’s mother, who has also not been identified, was issued a criminal summons, which is different than an arrest warrant. The mother was not taken to jail, but she was issued a court date. She was charged with failing to store a firearm to protect a minor.
The 11-year-old will not be on campus for the rest of the school year, in accordance with school policy which calls for a student to be suspended for 365 calendar days unless the superintendent recommends placement in an alternative program.
Vlack said the saddest part of the situation at Clayton Middle School is not how the school handled it, but that an 11-year-old brought a gun to school.
“Something reached a point for that kid that day for him to say, ‘I’m gonna grab a handgun and put it in my school bag today. That’s what I’m going to do today,’ ” Vlack said. “That is a community problem.”
Other schools react
In the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary, schools across the country have come into sharp focus for how they are managing incidents involving guns.
While some schools have acted on the side of secrecy, other schools have chosen the route of constant communication.
This month, during a school safety drill at Hunter Elementary School in Wake County, parents were called each day before the safety drill was scheduled to take place.
The drill involved a staged gunman coming to the school. When the drill was cancelled due to snow, parents were also notified. They were told again when the drill was rescheduled.
At a middle school in the Triad region, school officials found a loaded handgun left in a backpack after school on Friday. Surry County School officials and a local sheriff issued a joint statement saying the gun was confiscated after school was dismissed for the day.
Meanwhile, some schools have come under criticism for incidents of fake guns, including a boy pointing his fingers in the shape of a gun.
The Washington Post reported that an 8-year-old boy in Maryland was suspended for a day when he “pointed his finger like a gun after another student pretended to shoot him with a bow and arrow.”