County enforces gun-free policy

Published 12:10 pm Monday, February 7, 2011

A zero tolerance policy on weapons on school campuses ensures that Escambia County Schools receive federal funding, according to a U.S. Department of Education Policy.

That policy gave school officials a “tough week” this week after a student at Flomaton High School was found with a shotgun he’d used for hunting in the vehicle he parked on the school campus.

Escambia County Schools Superintendent William Hines said the procedures followed after the discovery were simply an implementation of policy.

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“It’s been a tough week,” Hines said Friday. “We have a weapon-free policy in place for our schools, and we simply had to follow the rule.”

The school board’s policy states “weapons and use of weapons shall be prohibited on school property, including buses and at school-sponsored activities. Weapons and use of weapons shall also be prohibited in any vehicle brought onto school property or school-sponsored activity.”

“This is policy that was approved and voted on by members of the school board,” Hines said. “I am directed to enforce that policy as superintendent.”

Law enforcement officers on campus last week for a drug-related sweep of the campus turned up the shotgun in the student’s car.

The student, who was not identified by Hines, has since withdrawn from the school.

Following the policy of a weapon-free campus will allow the county school system to continue receiving federal funding, Hines said.

The U.S. Department of Education has certain requirements in place that mandate a gun-free policy for systems receiving federal funds.

“Each state receiving federal funds under any title of this act shall have in effect a state law requiring local educational agencies to expel from school for a period of not less than one year a student who is determined to have brought a firearm to a school, or to have possessed a firearm at a school, under the jurisdiction of local educational agencies in that state, except that such state law shall allow the chief administering officer of a local educational agency to modify such expulsion requirement for a student on a case-by-case basis if such modification is in writing.”

Could the “case-by-case” basis provision apply to the Flomaton situation?

Not likely, according to federal guidance on the Gun-Free Schools Act, which states that the provision can be applied when students involved fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Hines said the Gun-Free Schools Act is nothing new, with every case being punished consistently under school policy.

“This act has been in place since 1994,” he said. “This school board has had to deal with similar situations in the past and has handled the punishment consistently regardless of the student.”

Each fall, students in the county system are provided with a copy of the Code of School Conduct booklet outlining responsibilities and expectations of students and parents or guardians, Hines said.

“Our Code of Conduct clearly states that our schools will be weapon-free environments,” Hines said. “It is our duty to enforce those rules and honor that policy in every circumstance.”

The Code of Student Conduct states “any student found in possession of a weapon on school property or a setting under control of the school or school system will be expelled for one calendar year. Escambia County Board of Education shall have a ‘Zero Tolerance’ for any type weapon brought on school campus.”

The final page of the booklet requires that parents or guardians of students in the system sign and return the page acknowledging their being notified of policy, procedure and rules in the system.

The statement reads “parents or guardians should take special notice of the weapons and controlled substances sections of this Student Code of Conduct as well as the suspension and expulsion policies.”

Hines said he hopes that actions such as those over the past week won’t be necessary within the system in the future.

“This has been really tough,” Hines said. “But, if we want to keep our schools safe and continue to receive federal funding, we have to adhere to these policies we already have in place. It would be wonderful to never have to do anything like this again.”

Hines said current federal funding brings as much as $8 million into the Escambia County School system.