If readers are left scratching their heads after reading about the rumors of a drug bust at a high school that turned out to be a weapon incident at another school (see front page), we understand. And, we feel your confusion and concern.
Rumors of a “major drug bust” at Wake Forest-Rolesville High began flying around midday Friday, Feb. 22 — the same day Wake County schools experienced a three-hour delay due to icy roads. We waited to see the report on the Wake Forest Police Department’s P2C (Police-to-Citizen) website.
But after a week, there was still no report.
Talking to students, it was clear something happened as they were significantly delayed in their shortened second periods. And there were too many reports from students who said classmates were taken from classrooms by police for questioning.
But when we asked Wake Forest Police about it, they seemed as confused as us. No drug bust — not to their knowledge. The only incident they were aware of was an afternoon scuffle on a bus.
After a few more calls back and forth, we were astonished to learn that the investigation — for which there still is no official record — was not for a drug bust, but for a report of a potential gun on campus.
Turns out it’s not as bad as it sounds. It was, we’ve been assured, a BB gun, and it wasn’t at the high school. It was at Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle.
But that’s where the flow of information stops because the Wake County Sheriff’s office refuses to comment on the incident. Were students ever in danger or threatened? They won’t say.
Was anyone suspended over the incident? We know what school policy says should happen — automatic suspension — but we don’t know if it was followed.
We know it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor for a student to carry a BB gun onto school grounds. But is the student being charged? No one’s talking.
On one hand, we’re glad it was a BB gun and not a more lethal weapon. However, this incident, like all others that happen on public school property, is a perfect illustration of why our state’s public records laws need clarification when it comes to students, schools and law enforcement.
Intent is openness
Our Attorney General, Roy Cooper, has written our state’s public records laws “are critical to operating a fair and open government. … when in doubt about how to interpret the state’s open records and meeting’s laws — always work to resolve the question in favor of openness.”
Unfortunately, what usually happens, especially on school campuses, is school officials hide behind school policy and say they can’t comment. Law enforcement officials (LEOs) hide behind a blanket, its-a-juvenile-thing excuse.
Juvenile laws are in place to shield young victims of crime as well as to create a second-chance atmosphere for young perpetrators.
But LEOs and school administrators should understand parents need reassurance their children are safe. They can do this without violating the law and revealing identifying information about juvenile suspects.
When parents drop their kids off in front of the school and watch them walk through the school entryways, a door that might as well be made of concrete slams shut behind them. Parents lose, in large part, the normal rights and authority they have over their children. And students essentially become non-persons with regard to law and school policy.
Unlike in any other part of society, they can be randomly searched. And the bar for probable cause is wherever school administrators and law enforcement decide to set it — for that school, that day and that student.
Principals have near complete authority to do as they please, including asking folks — parents — to leave campus for any reason. They can also issue suspensions of up to 10 days without true due process or right of appeal.
In any other setting, this would be extremely disturbing. We’ve all learned to accept it from the school system because we’re told it’s the best way to oversee hundreds of students at one time. And in a large part, that’s true.
So in good faith, parents continue to turn their children over to these mini-oligarchies because they trust the system will be fair and honest.
Then a situation like what happened Feb. 22 takes place, and we’re quickly reminded how little say the public has.
Consider this in a different light: When a child is enrolled in camp, the staff from the director down to the lowest counselor understands parents are paying them and they work to make sure campers are happy, well-cared for and enjoy camp.
If a camper packed a weapon in his or her duffle bag, you can believe the director would contact other parents as quickly as possible to reassure them their kids were safe and the situation was handled. And they wouldn’t just say, “Trust us,” not if they want repeat business.
It seems, however, public servants often forget they are there to serve the public, and not the other way around.
A little bit of good faith reassurance and openness about what happened in a situation like the Feb. 22 incident would go a long way toward maintaining a good relationship.
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