Area schools keep guns off campus

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 15, 2005

A pair of gunmen, boys really, in a Colorado school a few years ago changed the way America’s schools dealt with the potential of students bringing weapons to campus.

Schools began adopting policies to aid administrators in stopping a student from bringing a gun to school, even before they get to campus.

In addition, a rash of teen gun violence has Dallas County and other area educators on alert.

Dr. Fannie Major-McKenzie, Dallas County’s Schools Superintendent, said the county system has worked in the past and she feels like her students work and learn in a safe atmosphere.

“We have a system-wide policy,” she said. “I feel like we are safe.”

The backbone of that policy, according to Major-McKenzie, is the school’s zero-tolerance for guns.

“Students who are found to have a gun are automatically recommended for expulsion,” she said.

But that’s an issue the school system hasn’t faced in awhile, but everyone should remain prepared, according to Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman.

“Something like that could happen at any time,” Huffman said. “Some of these kids don’t care. (However) we can’t recall a gun being taken from a student on school property in the past year.”

Other measures include cameras mounted in the hallways, keeping an eye on all of Dallas County’s middle and high school students. Teachers and faculty are also schooled on the warning signs, according to Dallas County Principal Susan Jones.

“In my opening session, I do a real intense (session) with the teachers on what to watch for,” Jones said.

Jones said “spot” checks are also a part of the school’s security procedures.

“We go through the parking lot and do spot checks,” she said. “We have a lot of trucks that you can look in the vehicle and see.”

The spot checks help teachers protect the privacy of their students as well.

“We don’t ask them to open (their vehicles) unless we see something suspicious,” she said.

Jones said it has worked in the past too, though the school hasn’t had any violations this year.

Jones said a hunting rifle was left in one student’s vehicle and was discovered through one of the routine parking lot sweeps.

Though it did not appear to be intentional, the student was disciplined.

“He’s not with us anymore,” she said of the student.

Even something as seemingly unrelated as a dress code can be an asset to schools.

“There’s research out there (about) how much can be hidden when pants are drooped and shirts untucked,” Jones said. “That’s why we enforce the dress code (so strictly).”

Jones also said the school gets a lot of information from the students.

“We talk to our kids in our character education classes,” she said. “If kids see things they’re going to report it to us. Our kids help us the most.”

Jones said the presence of authority helps too.

Being there and being involved does quite a bit,” she said.

Overall, Jones said the combination of openness, knowing her students and depending on her faculty helps keep any problems to a minimum.

“We have a number of ways to be sure we’re monitoring everyone,” she said.

Jones said, “Everybody wants to be sure the kids are safe. I credit it all to our staff and kids.”

The students at Dallas County feel safe too, Jones said.

“We do a survey every six months and the kids say they feel safe,” she said.

Vigilance about weapons on campus is not limited to area public schools.

Central Christian Academy has several security measures in place and administrators feel it prevents any problems with kids bringing weapons onto the campus.

“First of all, we have cameras,” CCA headmaster Dayton Dawkins said. “We have locker checks daily. I go around to every locker. We do car checks every two weeks.”

Dawkins said the school’s teachers conduct checks too.

“We ask that teachers check book bags,” he said.

Dawkins said a lot of the schools procedures are new, but seem to be working.

“We started probably about Christmas as just a precautionary measure,” he said.

Meadowview Christian officials didn’t give many details about their security procedures, but they were sure it wasn’t a problem.

“(I’m) almost positive it has never happened,” Dr. Mike Gaylor, MCS headmaster said.

Morgan Academy, according to headmaster Dr. Christopher De buzna, used to have problems with some students bringing hunting rifles to school so they could either go to or come from their deer stands directly from school, but hasn’t dealt with it in years.

“We used to have that especially during deer season,” he said. “We had that problem 10 years ago, but luckily we’ve been able to curtail that.”

De buzna said the problem didn’t solve itself overnight.

“You start out slow,” he said.

By putting together a workable policy, De buzna said the school could work with parents and work out a solution.

“Working together we can get a pretty good handle on it,” he said.

De buzna also said Hunter Safety Education courses kept many of his hunting students from bringing the weapons to school as well.

In conjunction with looking into cars and the nine cameras posted on campus, De buzna said the problem has stopped almost completely.

According to other educators, the solutions area schools are using can and will work.

Steve Benson, principal at Tuscaloosa High School, faced a problem with a weapon on campus several months ago.

Sometime after school, a juvenile who didn’t attend school at THS brought a rifle to campus.

A student fired the weapon twice, once into an embankment and again into another student’s backpack lying on the ground.

Luckily, Benson said, no one was hurt and the problem was dealt with immediately.

“It had basically a happy ending,” he said.

The school’s openness allowed a student who witnessed the incident to report it immediately to the office.

Because of the school’s zero-tolerance policy, the student who fired the weapon was expelled, Benson said. The friend who brought the gun was arrested.

The cameras in his school also act as deterrent, preventing students from bringing a weapon into the school.

Benson also conducts regular checks of cars in the lot, keeping students from normally bringing a gun onto campus during regular hours.

The addition of a school resource officer, who spends the majority of his time on the THS campus, also allows the school to have a steady law enforcement presence.

All of these things – many of which are being used by county and private schools – worked well for THS.

“We do a climate survey with our students and parents,” Benson said. “When your kids come back and 96 percent of your kids feel safe, that’s where my confidence comes in.”

While these measures are working, they aren’t the only methods to protect area children.

“We should not let our guards down,” Major-McKenzie said.

She said she hopes that in the future, she can help make students even safer at area schools, although new measure might be some time in coming.

“At this point, I’m not looking at (changing) our policy,” she said.

Major-McKenzie said she would be looking into other measures that could be taken, however.

“We could set up a tip line,” she said. “I’m very much in favor of the random search.”

Jones echoed her sentiments, saying nothing was more important.

“It’s always a concern,” she said, “because the kids’ safety is first.”