Arlee community meets to discuss gun incident
ARLEE – An Arlee High School student put a nonworking BB gun in a backpack and got on a school bus on Wednesday, Oct. 31. Principal Jim Taylor found out about the weapon during the morning hours and removed it from the student’s possession. The student was sent home with a parent. Lake County School Resource Officer Clay Shoemaker was notified at 7:41 a.m. and began an investigation by visiting the student’s home.
Lake County Sheriff Don Bell released a statement the next day saying that there was “no immediate threat to the safety of others” at the school. Bell stated that the youth was not arrested but a misdemeanor citation for possession of a weapon in a school building was issued.
Superintendent James Baldwin called the school’s lawyer to determine how to proceed. The lawyer, Elizabeth Kaleva, consulted the school handbook. It was determined that because there wasn’t an immediate threat, the school didn’t need to enact emergency procedures. Baldwin later said he inherited a policy with many flaws. This is his first year as the superintendent at the school. He said he thinks the policy needs to change.
The school held a community meeting with administrators and board members to listen to public comment about the incident on Wednesday, Nov 7. About 150 people attended the meeting and many were upset that the school was not locked down during the incident and an emergency call wasn’t immediately sent out to parents or guardians. They weren’t informed until the next day.
Baldwin addressed the crowd with an opening statement by explaining the incident. “On the morning of Oct. 31, I received a call from Mr. Taylor that he had a student who brought a gun to school that was not operating. He took it away from him. He called the parents and the law, and the student was removed from the building. We did not issue a lockdown because there was not a threat. I contacted our attorney and emailed the board members about the incident.”
Members of the community couldn’t ask questions of the board, as per the meeting laws, but they did make statements, and those statements expressed concern for actions taken after the weapon was found. People wanted to know why the school didn’t immediately notify them about the incident. Emotions ranged from anger to tears during the meeting. Several parents also said their children were afraid to return to school.
Board members were able to ask questions, and they also wanted to know why parents weren’t notified immediately about the incident. Kaleva responded by saying the school’s procedure handbook didn’t dictate using the emergency notification system. She explained that schools are required to follow school policy. “When you look at your district’s current process for when they issue an emergency notification, it (happens) when there is a direct emergency or threat to students and a lockdown has been initiated.”
She said an individual posted inaccurate information on Facebook about the incident before administrators responded. “The district issued a response with every intention of notifying parents that there was an incident at the school,” she said.
One member of the audience responded by yelling at administrators and asking why it took four to five days before a community meeting was held to give people information. It was later answered that the school waited until the next school day when Taylor was able to attend the meeting.
High school student Peyton Lammerding stood up to say that she was “ashamed” of her community for the way they reacted after the incident. She said Facebook messages made the incident worse and many adults were engaging in “cyberbullying.”
She also thought administrators had a poor reaction to the incident.
“I sympathize with school administrators, but I feel they need to review their policy because they should have called parents right away,” she said.
She did praise one administrator. “Principal Taylor acted quickly in this situation to take away the gun. I also want to thank whoever it was that had the courage to tell the principal about the gun.”
She said she believes bad things do happen to people but it’s how they react that is important.
During the meeting, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Levi Read spoke to the crowd after parents asked if the children were safe in school. He said teachers at the school have been taught active shooter training, and Lake County Sheriff Don Bell has hired three school resource officers, even with budget cuts. Read said open communication and constructive conversations will help the community the most.
School board members and administrators said they plan to go through the school’s policy at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13.