Mar 242018
 

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

The School District has finally provided The Blue Paper with copies of its “policies and protocols” regarding gun related incidents. It took 5 weeks and the threat of criminal prosecution under the Florida public records law…

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HOB school administrators had justified the apparent disparate treatment of two students by referencing a “zero-tolerance policy” on guns that even includes colorful plastic toy guns.

We wanted to read for ourselves whether that “toy gun zero-tolerance policy” was real or merely a cover up for prejudice and favoritism.

Two separate incidents involving ‘guns’ resulted in two very different reactions by HOB Middle School officials this school year.

Real Guns

One student used Snapchat to send a picture of himself pointing a real gun at his audience. A caption was later added that read, “(Student’s name) is gonna bust a cap in yah head”. The image was recirculated.

The same student was later reported (by a witness who swears to this day that it is true) to have brought a real gun to an after-school event.

No official reports were made and no disciplinary action was taken in reaction to any of the incidents.

Orange and Green Plastic Toy Gun

Another student bought an orange and green plastic toy gun at the Dollar Tree store. He brought it to school. That student was expelled from HOB and placed in an alternative education program.

When questioned by the State Attorney’s Chief Investigator, Chris Weber, about the expulsion [from HOB] of the student with the toy gun, school officials claimed they were bound by their policy:

“The school in accordance with their policy of zero tolerance, suspended [the child] for two days and moved him to alternative education thus removing him from the student body.” [Chief Investigator Chris Weber, SAO Investigative Report]

Because there were claims that the kid in possession of the real gun belonged to a well-connected family while the toy gun student was reported to be Black, the School District’s refusal to disclose its mysterious zero tolerance policy on toy guns appeared suspect.

The District stonewalled our request for five weeks and only produced their written policies after we filed a complaint with the State Attorney.

The District policies we reviewed this week show that HOB does NOT have a zero-tolerance policy that includes toy guns. Quite the contrary. The District’s zero-tolerance policy specifically states that it only applies to “serious threats”.

“The School Board has zero tolerance for conduct that poses a serious threat to school safety and zero tolerance policies must apply equally to all students.” [Policy 5500 – Student Conduct].

Possession of a real firearm or weapon, throwing explosives, arson, and felony assault are listed as some of the actions that would fall under the definition of “serious threat” in the policy.

In general, the District’s written policies require administrators to avoid expulsion of students unless they pose a serious threat. Administrators are to evaluate each incident for what it really is and provide counseling if necessary.

The District chose to cover-up rather than expose prejudice and reckless favoritism.

Observations on School Policies

Further reading of the District’s written policies brings more questions as to their adequacy. It’s a fact that the information we receive here at The Blue Paper about drugs in schools, guns on campus or bullying is always in the form of a tip or a rumor, almost impossible to verify. Most surprising is the fact that even when an incident is actually verified, those in-charge have initially denied its occurrence.

Incidents are hidden in student files or simply never recorded or kept only in “field notes”. There is no centralized digital database, no log that catalogs all reported incidents and their outcomes. That database should exist, and it should be accessible to the public, teachers and administrators. In its public version, all student names should of course be automatically redacted.

Most parents we interviewed have argued that it would be a lot easier to keep their children safe from drugs, guns and bullies if they knew what was really happening during school hours.

It should be very easy for a parent to learn, without the identity of students being revealed, whether or not a drug search has been conducted, whether drugs were found, when and what actions, if any, were taken. A public log would also allow parents to learn, for example, when an unnamed student has been questioned about bringing a real gun to school.

The Blue Paper was recently told, by multiple sources, that Sugarloaf school had to send some students to the hospital this year because they’d ingested Tic-Tacs laced with drugs. Superintendent Mark Porter told us that such an incident has never occurred. Maybe. But, with all due respect, what does he know? He certainly did not know about the incident of the “gonna bust a cap in yah head” Snapchat images. That incident was simply never documented.

At present time what must be reported, when and to who in Monroe County schools is a loose web of politics, influence, and secrecy.

As to parents, an easy access to a nameless daily log of incidents would be an invaluable guide that could be used to warn and advise their children.

As to watchdogs and taxpayers, such a database would be a basis for evaluating the responses of the administrators of Monroe County schools and for holding them accountable.

SEE RELATED:

SAO Report: Witness Swears He Saw a Real Gun in Student Backpack at HOB After-School Event

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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.

  9 Responses to “HOB School Safety Update”

  1. Thanks to the people who give the Blue Paper reports on District wrongdoing. Naja does everything she can to bring whatever truths we can find to The People.

    Without a Blue Paper, I’ll be suing these people regularly, at a great waste of (my own) taxpayer funds. I just wish the District would do the right thing on their own.

  2. If even a toy they need booted for life. What does color have to do with anything ? I could paint a real gun orange. Put the low life in a juve home and just maybe he will learn from it. This not a joke. I don’t care what his age is. He is a threat to other students.

    • I think the point is that the toy gun was not a real gun painted over and that a plastic toy gun could not possibly be deemed a « serious threat ».  »Zero tolerance for serious threats. » Maybe if the toy looked like a real gun one could reasonably say it was some sort of threat (not a serious threat either) because of the panic it would cause – but that was not the case here. There was no serious threat yet this child was kicked out of the middle school while another child from a well-connected family is known to send around photos of himself messing around with a real gun and likely brought (the witness claims to this day he saw a real gun in the kid’s backpack) a real gun to an after-school event is not deemed a danger to the school population, was not disciplined, is not being counseled and the whole thing was entirely swept under the rug by KWPD and the District until someone on the inside came to this newspaper. Thankfully the District stepped in now and the toy gun child is back at his middle school enjoying the same opportunities as most of his peers. We wonder who else has been sent to an alternative education program and why?

  3. “The District chose to cover-up rather than expose prejudice and reckless favoritism.” What?? “Favoritism”? I think what you meant to say is “Racism”. It is pervasive, corrosive and regressive from little Key West to Washington, DC. Thanks to our new governance, racism is now mainstream and considered a legitimate topic for dialogue. We have lost our collective way in this Godforsaken fading republic. Please bring that kid back to school and apologize, HOB administrators, or as Rick mentioned above, expect big legal fees and court time.

    • Hi Alex!
      Fortunately the toy gun child is back at HOB now – one of the good things to come of our reporting on this. Perhaps he and his parents got an apology – we may never know. In terms of using the word « racism » we have to be careful because the race of the child – though believed to be Black – has not been verified to the point of absolute certainty. We are hoping to find the family somehow and speak with them about all of this…

      • Good news about the child back at HOB! That is great. Somehow I got the impression the “toy gun child” was of color. I hope you are able to sort that out… There is institutionalized double standards and the administration at HOB was playing loose with the facts.Thank you for your persistence uncovering the serious news in KW. Miss you guys 🙂

  4. Even a toy gun does not belong in school. For what reason did he bring it ?
    If the rules say no real guns or toy guns then he violated it. He wanted to look like he had a gun and it worked. Now pay the price. Or do we want to send a message to others that if you paint a real gun orange they can get away with it. Nobody has time to verify if real or not even based on color. In the dark if you point that toy at a cop he will and should shoot you.

    • Yes he should pay the price. The issue here is what is “the price” he’s supposed to pay? This article tells you that the official policy does not call for expulsion because it is not a “serious threat”. A serious threat is when a kid brings a real gun to school, or sets something on fire on school grounds, or sets off an explosion or commits felony assault on another student – for example. Obviously the District admits that the toy gun kid is not a “serious threat” and the “zero tolerance” policy calling for expulsion from the school was not the correct “price to pay” as they have now decided to put him back into the school with his peers.

      • We will just have to disagree on this one. He was a treat to other students. How far it goes is up to them .I bet next next time it will be real gun and perhaps he kills.. If it had been real but unloaded then that would also be let go ?