Schools discuss campus weapons policies

May 25—While Oklahoma is an open carry state, public schools are often reminding patrons, parents and students that it is illegal to have weapons on all school properties.

After an incident on May 16 at Tahlequah High School, local administrators again found the issue at the forefront. What was initially seen by some observers as a possible threat turned out to be a parent picking up his child at the track. The man stepped out of the vehicle at the school, with a pistol on his hip that he had forgotten was there. Superintendent Tanya Jones said the SRO was immediately contacted and was on the radio with local police as he made his way to the subject.

"Within a few minutes, we had more law officers than we needed, but it was a fantastic response by local law enforcement for a situation that ended up not being a threat," said Jones. "Knowing they would there that fast, in case something did go wrong, was very good."

Randy Jordan, an SRO at Greenwood Elementary, said that depending on the situation, the first thing they do when they have been alerted of a potential threat is to lock down the campous.

"If they don't see a school official [or an SRO] right there, depending on the situation, I don't think calling 911 would be what they needed to do, because we have direct contact with the police departments," said Jordan.

Jones said TPS board policy 6270 states if a person has a valid handgun license authorized by the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act, a handgun maybe carried in a motor vehicle onto property that is used for parking or any vehicle use. However, the policy does state this can only take place if the handgun is "stored and hidden from view in a locked motor vehicle when the motor vehicle is left unattended on school property."

Dangerous weapons or instruments are forbidden on TPS property, including school buses or vehicles, and at school-sponsored functions.

These instruments described in the policy don't just single out firearms or knives, but also fireworks, chains, clubs, explosives, razors, etc. Jones said the policy states students who violate this and use any article as a weapon to threaten, or injure someone else will be suspended, with police also being notified. If a student is found to have a firearm or weapon, Jones said the child "maybe removed from school for one full calendar year or longer." This policy goes for any TPS building.

Jordan said punitive actions taken depend on the nature of the incident. For instance, if a student forgets he has a pocket knife in his backpack, officials would be more lenient than if he brandished it.

"It's a case-by-case basis on where there is discipline on that every time or not," said Jordan.

Jordan said to keep an eye out for potential threats, he suggests people to always remain alert in their areas. If someone notices a person is carrying a weapon on school property, Jones said they should immediately contact a school resource officer or building administrator.

"We would rather be safe than sorry," said Jones.

When tragedies such as school shootings take place, Jones said it heightens everyones awareness, since it could happen anywhere.

"I just want everyone to know that [safety] is something that is always in the forefront of our mind, whether it be a threat from a person or a weather-related incidenyt that could cause an emergency. But we know taking care of our kiddos is our No. 1 priority," said Jones.

Keys Public School Superintendent Vol Woods said anyone who sees something suspicious should contact the office and SRO immediately. From there, the appropriate actions of contacting other law enforcement will be taking place.

Keys' policy involving firearms is similar to the one at TPS, as no students or staff are allowed to have any weapons on school property.

"Well, the way the law is, if a grandpa is coming to pick up a kid during deer season and he has his deer rifle in the truck, it's OK, as long as it stays in the truck," said Woods. "Now he can't park the truck and get out and come in, but if he's in the car line, there's nothing we can do about that. It's state law."

Woods also mentioned the Rave App, which is used by staff to alert others of a potential threats. Electronic locks at Keys have been added to ensure the safety of the school. Another safety measure is a heavily-restricted, electronically-locked safe holding a weapon in each building that is to help stop a threat if it makes its way into the building.

To protect more vulnerable areas at the school, Woods off-duty police officers are employed to help with dropoff and pickup. Woods said over the past several years, the school has been slowly adding these safety measures and others, like connecting some building with hallways, to prevent any threats to their students or staff.

"I think parents appreciate just knowing people can't just walk up and down the halls because it just takes one mentally ill person," said Woods. "You just never know who's going to be around or what's going on."