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Monday, May 03, 2010

Again: What is the SPS Policy on Anything that Looks Like a Gun?

The PI had an interesting story this morning about an incident at Washington Middle School in early April. Apparently 3 students were expelled for 15-days for aiming/having a toy gun at school. However, none of the staff told the Seattle Police School Emphasis Officer about the incident and she found out when she saw one student riding a bike during school hours. He told her about the expulsion.

From the story:
In an April 21 meeting with a school staff member, in which the officer asked why she was not contacted and the incident was not reported, the staff member did not have an answer, according to a police incident report. About 15 minutes later, the staff member "stated to me it wasn't reported because 'it was a clear, plastic gun and not used with malice,'" School Emphasis Officer Erin Rodriguez wrote in the report.

Additionally,

After speaking to the witnesses and girl who was hit, Rodriguez contacted the school security staff told about the incident April 12, "and inquired why the incident wasn't reported to 911," Rodriguez wrote. "She stated because 'it was a toy gun, with orange on the end. The kind you get at a .99 cent store. We verified it was plastic."

Unfortunately, it turns out the gun was not clear plastic; it was black with an orange tip (likely an Airsoft gun) and the tip had been colored black with a marker. Airsoft guns shot plastic pellets unlike BB guns which shoot steel pellets. But if you were to aim at someone's face, you could easily hurt them. The pellets can sting. And, Airsoft guns are not 99 cent toys.

During one of Rodriguez's interviews, a student told the officer that on April 9, she saw at least one of the students later suspended with the toy gun.

"I was scared because I didn't know if it was real," she said, according to the report.

One boy pointed the gun at her back and tried to shoot her. When nothing happened, she realized it was a fake gun. He then tried to shoot two others in the butt, she told police. The incident was reported to her counselor and school security April 12.

Another girl, who said she initially didn't know if the gun was real, was shot in the right elbow April 9 about 15 minutes after school dismissed. At least one other student was fired at, witnesses told police.

SPD's take:

But Seattle Police spokeswoman Renee Witt, who reviewed the incident report, said something of the incident's nature "absolutely" should have been reported to the school emphasis officer.

So why have these officers if we don't make use of them? They know how to handle the kids and the situation better than the school and they are right there on campus. Again we see SPS staff substituting their judgment instead of using resources.

Again, there's this perception that maybe staff don't want their intervention numbers up. We just don't know but what is clear is that the district continues to have a public relations problem. To the public, it's "oh yes, we have policies in place and officers on campus at some schools who work with staff". The reality is that is seems like a free-for-all and someday that may be a big problem for the district.

24 comments:

Michael said...

Most people out at the schools do not like the police for one reason or another (some valid, some not), and do not want to call the police no matter what, e.g. assaults between students, teachers touching students inapproprately, students caught stealing District equipment, etc. They don't want to "ruin the students life" by having them exposed to the criminal justice system. Better to have them exposed to it at a young age rather than at a later age in life where the record really does follow you around like a lead-weight.

As Mayor Bloomberg said Sunday, "see something, say something."

Josh Hayes said...

Michael, the trouble is that the "zero tolerance" policy the district now employs leaves no room for discretion - a kid who gives another kid a shove is exactly the same as a kid who knocks another kid down and stomps on his head repeatedly. Are these the same thing? Objectively, of course not. According to SPS, yes they are: they are "assault", and merit a suspension of no less than 11 nor more than 90 days.

It's idiotic.

That said, any kid who brings something resembling a gun to school had better not be surprised if s/he's expelled for the rest of the year. If it were my kid, I would not object, that's for sure.

And WV agrees: the kid deserves a banscul.

Charlie Mas said...

Josh, even if police are called, there is still room for discretion. The question becomes who gets to exercise that discretion: the school staff or the police?

If a student shoves another and the police are called, they are unlikely to make an arrest.

If a student knocks another kid down and stomps on his head repeatedly, they are likely to make one.

So, who's call is it? Should the decision be made by a law enforcement officer or a school administrator?

If you think it's a law enforcement decision, then you are likely to want the police officer to make it. If you think the arrest decision is a school discipline decision, then you are likely to want the school administrator to make it.

seattle said...
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seattle said...
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seattle said...

I think the school administrators, as responsible adults, who are supervising our children, should have some discretion in the matter of discipline.

As Josh points out a shove and a full on beating are both considered assault. The police could be called for both, but should they be?

I think it is the administrators call.

I think the real problem is that a handful of administrators do not use their discetion properly. They allow very serious offences to occur without calling the police and without any discipline. Those adminstrators should be dealt with (and trained) on an individual basis. A few bad apples should not result in a district policy that strips all of our highly competent, responsible administrators of their discretion and authority.

In the case at hand, with the air soft gun, I think police absolutely should have been call

seattle said...
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seattle said...

Even the matter of a shove warrants great discretion.

A 1st grader shoves another 1st grader on the playground.

Two middle school boys, freinds, are playfully horsing around in the hall while passing classes, one shoves the other, jumps on his back, etc. (boys do this all the time).

A jealous boy shoves his girlfriend to the ground.

A high school student angrily shoves a teacher to the ground.

All the same offences in the eyes of the district. Shoving. Which is assault.

Should the police be called in each of these instances? Do we really need to rely on their discretion?

Or should a principal be able to use his own discretion and judgement as to the severity of the "assault", and whether or not it warrants discipline and/or a call to the police?

Michael said...

Some principals don't have the discretion or judgment to be able to make that call. To these few, the police is the "enemy" and should not be involved at all.

Just because they are principals doesn't mean they know what is right.

Jet City mom said...

we have a no tolerance policy on guns, so when an 11 yr old Whitman middle schooler has a 4 inch squirt gun in his backpack that he had forgotten about after an overnight, fall out in the lunchroom while he is looking for his lunch money- he is expelled.
Same treatment as the older middle school boys who pretend their gun is real and enjoy scaring other students.


SPS doesn't usually contact the police. Not when threats have been made against a student, not when students are assaulted and not when there are other problems that are out of their area of expertise or authority.

Interesting actually, considering how fast they act to hire outside consultants for " education" purposes, but for " law & order" situations, they have it covered.
{insert eyeroll here]

seattle said...

"Some principals don't have the discretion or judgment to be able to make that call. To these few, the police is the "enemy" and should not be involved at all."

I totally agree. And those principals should be dealt with individually, and appropriately. The "few" who do not have the discretion to make those calls should not drag down the vast majority of SPS principals who are highly effective and competent.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, well, then that officer (who is at the school so there's no real "calling" involved and those officers are not there to arrest kids), should be taken out of the school. That's our tax money and the consensus is leave it to principals then move that officer to a high school (because not all high schools have officers) or don't have them at all.

seattle said...

That's not what I meant Melissa.

We have plenty of violence at our schools that absolutely warrants police involvement. Further I think an officer stationed at a school can be a great deterrent.

What I meant was that not all offences warrant police involvement. Are the police needed when a 1st grader shoves another 1st grader? Absolutely not. Are they needed when a student shoves a teacher to the ground. Definately.

I'm not saying we don't need to involve the police. I'm saying we don't need to involve the police in every single case. An administrator should be empowered to use his/her judgement as to whether the offence warrants police involvement.

Some incidents absolutely warrant police inovement while others can be dealt with via suspension, a warning, calls to parents, lunch duty, detention, visits to the school councelor, etc.

Josh Hayes said...

I agree with Jasper. What concerns me is this reflexive obeisance to what seem to me to be absurdly arbitrary and rigid rules.

"Zero-tolerance" policies seem to me to have at their heart the fallacy that banning something will make it stop happening. Like Prohibition, for instance. As Jasper points out, kids shove each other sometimes; darn near ALL of them do at one time or another. Should we be graduating a generation of kids with police records for the kind of behavior that was addressed in MY day by a teacher saying, "Hey! Cut it out and get to class!"?

I think a pragmatic, "walks like a duck" policy is best: we may not be able to make hard fast rules about what's police-worthy and what isn't, but we know it when we see it. And any Principal worthy of the title should be able to make that judgment.

wseadawg said...

Zero tolerance policies waste time and resources. There is and always must be discretion for administrators to use.

Police should be called (911 style) if there is or may be a danger to persons. If there is no danger, or it was abated by school personnel, then they might be "called" as in, come by, interview and make a report, but if they have a bank robber on the loose, call or no call, they aren't coming, and that's the way they are supposed to prioritize.

We don't live in a perfect world. Hence, discretion is always being exercised, as is necessary. If we want more security and certainty, we'll have to put more money where our mouths are. There's no way around that.

Sahila said...

That was my beef with the "zero tolerance" policy that Roy Merca was insisting on adhering to at AS#1...

I had friends whose daughter went to Summit after Viewlands was closed, and in her first week at Summit, was suspended for defending herself from an attack by another girl...

The same thing happened later in the year - she was suspended for defending herself, despite having been beaten quite badly (trip to the doctor, photos taken and a chat with the police re the possibility of laying charges against the other girl)...

My argument with Roy (who wouldnt implement a Positive Discipline policy/programme to which the AS#1 community was committed - he said he had decided at Summit that it took too much time and paperwork for the teachers), was that when you stick to a zero tolerance policy and punish all those involved in an 'event' you 're-victimise' the victim and you create a culture where children/adolescents wont come to adults with problems because they dont trust that they will be heard, acknowledged, be safe and wont face even worse consequences than the original violence...they have nowhere to go, they suffer psychologically and they WILL take that pain and confusion into another arena, which might lead to more dysfunction.

I think there are degrees of dysfunctional behaviour and there ought to be degrees of strategies to cope with those...

Charlie Mas said...

I'm always curious about the use of the expression "a few bad apples". How do we distinguish between that and a systemic problem?

If the solution to the problem is training, then we have a lack of training, which is a systemic problem.

Should we continue to give discretion to those who have shown that they don't use it well? Should those "bad apples" lose their discretion?

How does the system respond to these "bad apples"? Does the Education Director make a fuss or let it go? Is a non-reaction to the "bad apples" evidence of a systemic problem?

How can we determine what is "a few bad apples" and what is a systemic problem?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, Jasper, then why have the officer there if she/he is not going to be kept up-to-date? How would you feel if it was your job and you found out this had happened and yet none of the staff even notified you let alone included you in the decision-making?

If Washington staff don't want their officer, we'll take her at Roosevelt.

seattle said...

If the district were functional the ed director would respond to repeated complaints that a principal was using poor discretion. That principal could receive extra training, could be disciplined, or could be demoted or fired for repeated, and documented, offenses.

Since we don't hear these complaints about the vast majority of SPS principals and administrators, I don't think it is a systemic problem. Rather, I think there are a few repeat offenders.

The problem as I see it is that the district is dysfunctional. They do not address the few bad apple principals head on. Instead they choose to replace the poor judgement of a few with rigid policy for all, which works fine until you have to suspend, and call the police on, a 1st grader for shoving another 1st grader. It is after all an assault, right?

The real issue is how to address the incompetent principals and the ed directors who supervise them.

seattle said...
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seattle said...
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seattle said...

Melissa, I think I said in my last post that this is absolutely a case where the police officer should have been informed and involved. Bringing a loaded air soft gun to school and shooting students with it is a very serious offense and should have been treated as such. Anything that puts students or staff in harms way requires swift and severe consequences- and in certain cases police involvement.

The principal definitely erred in this situation. And this is not the first time it has happened at Washington. This would be a situation where an ed director should intervene, document, and supervise the administrator much more closely.

I don't however think that all principal's (and their students) should have to pay the price for a few bad ones. Most SPS principal's are highly capable administrators that are very able to use some discretion - one (or a few) principal's poor decisions should not reflect badly on all of the others.

Charlie Mas said...

Once the problem rises to the level of education director it stops being a "bad apple" problem and becomes a systemic one.

Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Again, I ask, why have a police officer assigned to the school if they are not going to be part of the discipline chain of command? I know most principals do a pretty good job but it is troubling how often this kind of thing happens.

Either use the resources you have or cut them loose. If I were the officer, I'd feel somewhat dissed and wonder how often I might have been left out of the loop in the past.