Parents demanded more transparency and communication regarding student safety at the Stone County School Board meeting on Monday, October 4.
In front of a crowded meeting room, at least seven parents asked why the administration never notified parents about a Stone Middle School student bringing a loaded weapon into the classroom. The student was taken into custody within minutes of the bell ringing, and no one was hurt, but many parents are upset they learned of the incident from their child and not the administration.
Parent Natalie Mauffray addressed the board with a prepared statement and gave concrete suggestions on how the SCSD could improve communication with parents in the future.
"We as parents receive multiple messages each week, sometimes multiple messages daily, regarding things like turning in forms, ordering t-shirts, and sending money for snow cones. Why are these communication tools not being utilized for critically important issues like school safety? Mauffray asked. "The school district spends a lot of money on tools that could be used for this communication, and we all know it works. It's effective."
Mauffray said she is grateful the administration took the youth into custody before anything worse happened. Still, she wants more transparency on the district's procedures to handle and prevent guns on school property.
"We all know this situation could have ended much differently," she said.
The SCSD School Safety Plan lists detailed procedures for many dangerous situations, but not when a student brings a weapon to school. The plan only lists the criminal penalty for the incident.
"A full page is dedicated to how to handle an earthquake, but nothing's ever mentioned about a student with a deadly weapon," Mauffray said.
Mauffray said she would like to see the district develop better guidelines and make sure teachers, staff, and parents were aware of the procedures.
After the meeting, Superintendent Inita Owen said she would continue to address safety policies with the administration.
"We probably need to go back and update policies," Owen said.
Owen said school district policies like metal detectors were never in place, and another policy requiring all SMS and Stone High students to use clear or mesh book bags lapsed years ago. Still, she will consider reinstating whatever is necessary.
The superintendent said she understands parents' concerns about student communication.
"I do understand the concern with parents but my first thought wasn't what's best for the parents. It is what's best for my students," Owen said. "I'm trying to make my decisions based on what's best for 2,500 kids."
Owen said she is not against more communication with parents in the future.
"That was my decision then. Will it be the same next time? Based on the circumstances, I'll have to make the decision."
The initial report given to the Stone County Enterprise regarding the weapon at Stone Middle School was an honest misunderstanding between the Stone County Sheriff Department and the school resource officer on duty.
Capt. Amanda Schonewitz clarified the school officials pulled the 14-year-old out of class after being notified about a weapon in his backpack. The school resource officer then took the youth into custody and transported him to SCSD.
Schonewitz was informed he was arrested "right after he got off the bus" and assumed he never actually made it into the building at that time.
"When the school resource officer made contact with me, he explained to me that that incident actually occurred and started on the bus, so that's why, like I stated, I assumed that they apprehended him," Schonewitz said. "He brought the child to me, so technically, I didn't even set foot on the school grounds."
The student arrived just after 8 a.m. that Monday.
Schonewitz understood SMS classes do not start until around 8:15 a.m.