School board ruling not racially motivated, superintendent says

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 13, 2000

MONTICELLO — A Lawrence County activist claims racism was themotivating factor in an incident involving a gun that occurred inJanuary at Lawrence County High School.

Superintendent John Bull does not deny the incident happened,but said it was the circumstances of the situation, not racism,that led the school board not to punish the student.

Eugene Bryant, president of the state and county chapter of theNational Association of the Advancement of Colored People, saidthat a white high school student brought a high-powered rifle tothe school in his vehicle.

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“The weapon was detected in the student’s vehicle by the teacherresponsible for campus security,” Bryant wrote in a letter to theDAILY LEADER this week. “The teacher immediately and correctlyreported his or her observation to the assistant principal. Theassistant principal, in violation of state law, not to mentionschool policy, allowed the student to leave campus and rid himselfof the weapon and promptly return to campus.”

Bull said school officials are satisfied with the way theincident was handled.

“Race certainly had nothing to do with the way it was handled,”Bull said. “The circumstances of the incident determined theboard’s action. The board and I were satisfied with the way theincident had been handled. The safety of students was nevercompromised.”

Bull said law enforcement officials are also satisfied that itwas handled appropriately.

Bull said that although Bryant’s story is essentially correct,there are several inaccuracies. The teacher who reported the riflewas not in charge of campus security but was responsible in thatshe was on duty in the parking lot that day, he said.

The superintendent also said that the incident did not violatestate law because of some gray areas found within the law, and heractions “certainly did not violate district policy.”

“All laws governing this give discretion to the administration,”Bull said.

Bull said the zero tolerance policy used by the school boardbecame effective only in the case of a valid confrontation where aperson made first contact. In such a case, he said, the studentwould be recommended for expulsion.

He said in situations like this the January incident, the boardconsiders several factors before making a decision, such as intentand the possibility of conflict.

“There has been no student, black or white, who has been treatedany different. No student has ever been expelled from a school inthis district who did not have intent or a possible conflict — afact Mr. Bryant is well aware of,” Bull said “I’m also certain thatMr. Bryant knows that we try very hard to be fair to all students,black or white, rich or poor, whatever.”

Bull said Bryant, a former school board member from 1993-1998,was a member of the board when the zero tolerance policy wasapproved unanimously. Bull also pointed out that the first incidentthat occurred after the policy became effective involved a blackstudent, and the board did not support the policy.

“The policy I have taken as superintendent is to look at everycase individually,” he said.

Bull said he and the board first became aware of the incident inMarch when Bryant addressed the school board and informed them ofit.

“Certainly there was a lot of concern as to why an incident ofthis nature, if he was truly concerned about the student, why hewould wait until this late date,” Bull said.

The superintendent was asked by the board to investigate thematter and reported to the school board in a special meeting held afew days later.

“The young man in question had been deer hunting that morning,”Bull explained. “It was in deer season. His hunting clothes werelaying with the rifle. When he was notified about it, he was veryremorseful and quickly took responsibility for getting the rifleoff campus. There was no conflict with the student.”

Bull said he could understand how the mistake could be made.

“In Lawrence County deer hunting is a way of life for many ofour residents, and it is for me,” he said. “A mile off campus aperson could be legitimately holding a high-powered rifle waitingfor a deer.

“Somewhere else it might have been handled differently, but inLawrence County, where hunting is so prevalent, it was handledappropriately,” Bull said.

Bryant was unavailable for comment.