District working toward policy on weapons incidents
School district officials are working on standard procedures for dealing with weapons incidents on campus in the wake of three incidents where students brought weapons to campus and threatened other students.
The policy, which would also address communication with parents when such an incident occurs, is under review and was not presented to the Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday night. In addition to the policy, district officials want to extend their anti-bullying work in Alameda’s elementary schools to the middle and high school levels and update the district’s student handbooks so they present uniform language on weapons prohibitions, bullying and other topics.
Director of Student Support Services Jeff Knoth did not say where the incidents occurred, only that they occurred a month ago. Knoth will soon become principal of Wood Middle School, where a 14-year-old student was arrested in February after administrators there learned he had come to school with a loaded semiautomatic pistol and other weapons.
“As a result of the weapons incidents, we realized we don’t have a common understanding of what to do if a student possesses a weapon,” Knoth told the Board of Education during a school discipline and safety report that Superintendent Kirsten Vital said would become a regular report to the board.
Knoth said district staff looked at student handbooks for each school and found that schools had different handbooks that used different language to explain prohibitions on weapons on campus, reasons for suspension or expulsion, and rules regarding appropriate behavior, harassment and bullying.
He said staff looked at the district’s schools to see what efforts to prevent bullying and other incidents were working. Examples included a partnership Ameila Earhart Elementary School has with the Coast Guard to mode citizenship at recess, an anti-bullying pledge students at Lincoln Middle School must sign and the “Fresh Program,” a project Alameda High’s leadership class started to support at-risk freshmen in their transition to high school.
Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said she thought the district should consider allowing students and even parents to make anonymous reports to staff if they learn a student has brought a weapon to campus.
“Sometimes other students are aware of these weapons on campus, and they don’t feel comfortable telling,” Spencer said.
She also said the district’s handbooks need to offer clear explanations of what could be considered a weapon, citing pocket knives, butter knives and BB guns as examples.
The student arrested in the Wood incident was allegedly being bullied by another student on campus. And police said at the time that several students may have known the weapons were on campus for as much as a week before school administrators were told.
As part of the district’s safety efforts, district staff will also work to address cyber-bullying and the “ethical use” of cell phones and other technological advances. Knoth said that media center teachers and librarians will begin working with students on those issues at the start of the 2010-11 school year.
Knoth said the previous board policy dated back to the days of pagers, and that the district later adopted a policy allowing cell phones. But he said the district needs a consistent policy on cell phones and similar technology.
“It’s an exploding issue across the country,” Knoth told the board.
Board Vice President Mike McMahon said the district would need to train teachers and staff who might be less likely to use social networks and other, similar technology than their students.
“I think we need to support our staff in their ability to comprehend and feel comfortable using it, and in understanding the implications of social networks, how students live a life now where privacy is not how we see privacy,” McMahon said.
In other news, the board voted 5-0 to allow district staff to seek more than $10 million in notes for the 2010-11 school year to cover its bills as the state delays promised payments.
“It’s nothing to do with whether or not we pass Measure E. It’s a situation where we literally need to do it to make payroll,” Board President Ron Mooney said.
Mooney said the money is needed as a sort of bridge loan to pay the district’s bills while it waits for promised state money to come through. Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said the district expects to face a significant number of deferrals in payments from the state due to legislation that allows them. State funding accounts for more than three-quarters of the district’s budget.
“We’ve got scarce dollars. And yet the State of California is not only cutting our funding, but is stretching out our funding so we have to waste dollars to fund the interest,” McMahon said.
Shemwell said that getting the notes in place will cost the district $31,000.