The Ottumwa Courier

October 26, 2013

Child suspended for bringing an unloaded BB gun to Ottumwa school

By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — Whether it’s a BB gun or a “real” gun, whether it’s loaded or unloaded and whether or not a teacher even sees it, bringing a gun to school will get a kid kicked out.

A child at James Elementary School, staff discovered, brought a weapon to school: A BB pistol.

“Although it was a BB gun, we don’t minimize that fact,” said Davis Eidahl, superintendent of the Ottumwa school district. “We take this infraction very seriously.”

Then why, a concerned parent asked the Courier, weren’t James Elementary School parents told about the infraction when it occurred? One student’s parents said they heard about it from Facebook on Thursday evening. A parent called them on Thursday and suggested that the weapon had been brought to school on Monday. Worse, the mom said, the school didn’t officially send word to parents (and the media) until Friday.

“We never actually saw the BB gun,” said Eidahl. “We learned about it on Thursday afternoon. We spent the rest of the day investigating.”

Until they knew what, if anything, had happened, they’d chase down leads. Eidahl decided if it was a choice between providing parents with inaccurate information on Thursday or accurate information Friday morning, he would choose accuracy.

The evidence that had been gathered was submitted to the Ottumwa Board of Education on Thursday night.

As children began to talk about the interviews conducted by teachers Thursday, word went out on Facebook. Eidahl said social media is so fast, and requires so little confirmation of fact, that events are posted before the truth can be determined.

“As a school district, we love social media, and we use it; the press release on this incident was released using social media. Unfortunately, however, social media easily jumps ahead, often with inaccurate information. It’s a great tool — when used correctly,” he said.

But what was the staff spending time on at James Thursday afternoon that kept them from calling parents and telling them there was a gun on campus?

“We conducted multiple student interviews, [including] with those who saw the BB gun and ... the [accused] student. We learned it had been brought earlier in the week, and the student had displayed it on the bus, and at one point, in school to multiple students. What we learned from the student who brought and students who saw it, was that it was an unloaded BB gun.”

This was not, Eidahl said, about hiding information; it was about gathering information “so we could communicate to our staff and our board, then to the community, very accurate and transparent information.”

That information, he acknowledged, was given to parents less than 24 hours after staff first heard initial whisperings of “a gun in school.”

In nearly all similar situations over the years, Eidahl said, staff hears from students very quickly. In fact, that’s how they usually find out about contraband, since kids obviously would hide such things from the adults at school.

For some reason, students were not comfortable sharing this incident with adults, which the superintendent said must be addressed by the district.

To see reporter Mark Newman’s Twitter feed, go to @couriermark