Our Opinion: Safe schools, public opinion and partial information

News Tribune editorial

Hyper-sensitive environments invite over-reaction.

Our entire nation is embroiled in a wide-ranging and impassioned discussion about gun control in the aftermath of the massacre of 26 people, including 20 students, at a school in Newtown, Conn.

A Pioneer Trail Elementary School third grader likely had no intention of being swept up in this controversy when he brought to school a keychain fob in the shape of a two-inch replica of a German Luger handgun.

He reportedly pointed the toy at another student and has been suspended from school for three days.

The incident has prompted numerous posts on our website and Facebook page.

The comments largely criticized the punishment, which was described as “unbelievable” and “ridiculous.”

Other respondents viewed the incident as a teachable moment — an opportunity to instruct both students and parents about weapons, student safety and school policy.

We did not witness the incident. Our opinion, based on what has been reported, is the punishment appears excessive.

Our information, including a photograph of the keychain fob, indicates the item is a toy, not a weapon.

But, “there is more to this than bringing an item to school,” said Brian Mitchell, superintendent of the Jefferson City Public Schools.

He is prohibited by law, however, from disclosing specifics. “There is little we can share,” he said, but added: “We do try to administer discipline as consistently as possible.”

As this episode demonstrates, any report — or even rumor — involving weapons in schools ignites a wildfire of public discussion and opinion.

We acknowledge our opinion — that suspension seems an excessive punishment in this case — is based not only on incomplete information, but on information the school district cannot share.

The school district finds itself in the position where a goal is to maintain a safe learning environment for all students, but is unable to explain or defend specific actions.

That’s an unenviable position — one that is compounded when school officials suffer an onslaught of public criticism.

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