Board’s Silence Is Criticized
On Sept. 13, a 12-year- old Wheeling Middle School Student brought a loaded handgun to school. He was arrested. The Ohio County School Board conducted a special meeting at 8 a.m. on Sept. 20 to determine the discipline of the student. What happened thereafter was a disservice to the public.
The School Board went into executive session to determine how best to address and discipline the issue of a student bringing a loaded gun into our schools. After the executive session, School Board President James Jordan referred any questions regarding the outcome of the meeting to School Superintendent Dianna Vargo, who promptly declined to comment. This “Who’s on First?” routine of Ohio County Schools has become all too familiar. When will our public officials give parents the basic information about how a gun issue in our schools was handled?
Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing: The school board met in secret by choice, not by law. Concerned parents want to know the following and more: Was this student expelled? For how long? Will he ever be allowed to return to school? If so, what safeguards are in place to prevent this from happening again? What was going on at school, if anything, that made this student feel a gun was necessary? Has the school addressed this issue? Again, the school system’s silence on this issue is by choice, not by law.
West Virginia state law requires school boards to conduct their proceedings in the open unless certain exceptions apply, then a school board may (not required) decide to conduct business in executive session. One exception by law is the consideration of the disciplining, suspension or expulsion of a student; however, state law prohibits any public body from making any decision while in executive session.
For the Ohio County School Board to go into executive session and then make no decision and make no public comment regarding the status of this matter was poor judgment and less than comforting to all parents in light of the continued episodes of gun violence in our nation’s schools. We really should expect and demand more from our school officials.