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Officials discuss consequences of weapons at school with Selma students

With the incident of a student carrying a handgun on campus fresh on their minds, Selma High School students crowded into the gymnasium for an assembly on the consequences of bringing a weapon on campus.

“We must have a weapons-free school,” said Selma Police Chief William Riley. “At all cost, we are going to do that.”

Riley, District Judge Robert Armstrong, assistant District Attorney Byron Ford, Principal Wanda McCall and chief juvenile Probation Officer Cecil Hopkins spoke to students about the importance of helping administrators provide a safe learning environment.

McCall said Selma High School does its part to provide opportunities for students, but it is up to them to take advantage. McCall often hears her words echoed in the halls and classrooms.

“What I want you to do is reach over and help a friend up,” McCall said to the students.

While last Wednesday’s incident was a setback, Judge Armstrong congratulated students on their progress. During the 2007-08 academic year, Hopkins reported 74 incidents at Selma High School to juvenile court. So far this year, there have only been 13 incidents reported.

“Ya’ll deserve a huge pat on the back,” Armstrong said. “That’s something to really be proud of.”

Armstrong also warned students not to become complacent. Bringing a weapon onto campus is a class-c felony under the Code of Alabama, with a minimum of one year in prison and a maximum of 10 years.

“It is not something to play with at all,” Armstrong said.

Riley said the police department will maintain a presence at Selma High for the rest of the year. This includes a full-time school resource officer and officers stationed at the school’s entrance in the afternoon.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Riley said.

Students had mixed reactions to the assembly and the recent gun incident on campus.

Jeremy Peoples, a senior, said conventional methods do not deter students. Peoples said he appreciates what the Riley and others had to say, but he believes a change must occur at home first. Otherwise, everything said at the assembly will go in one ear and right out the other.

“I think their hearts are in the right place, but it’s not the answer,” Peoples said. “The violence comes from a lack of love.”

Shanquita Rembert, a junior, said the mood is changing at Selma High. Rembert said students want a safe place to learn and last week’s incident does not reflect the general population.

“That was just one time,” she said. “It was a big mistake.”

One mistake is fine. Hopkins said any mistakes after the first would not be tolerated.

“I’m trying to keep you out of prison,” he said to the students. “But it’s up to you.”

Riley said students are beginning to respond. He credited the collaborative efforts of the police department, high school and district attorney’s office.

“A lot of people are recognizing consequences now,” Riley said.

McCall is happy with the school’s progress. The drop in number of reported incidents is a step in the right direction, she said.

“We can’t stop here,” McCall said. “We still have a long way to go.”