This school district needed to be taught a lesson.
Students and parents in the community of Lacey Township, New Jersey, were in an uproar this week after word spread that two students at Lacey Township High School had been suspended over a photo posted to social media that showed a family visit to a private gun range.
And even though the school board has denied the story of the suspensions, the policy it involved was very real – until a gun rights group got involved and threatened a well-deserved lawsuit.
According to the Asbury Park Press, hundreds of gun right advocates flooded a Lacey Township school board meeting after a news report about the alleged suspensions went viral over the weekend.
The actual details of the story are murky. Neither NJ.com nor the Asbury Park Press interviewed the students who were allegedly suspended.
School Superintendent School Craig Wigley told NJ.com via email that “information posted on social media is incorrect” regarding the alleged suspensions. However, he would not say what part of the story was wrong.
Board members who were confronted by angry citizens were largely silent during Monday’s meeting, according to JerseyShortOnline, which covered the event. Board members cited privacy concerns for refusing to discuss the matter, but residents who attended the meeting weren’t buying it.
Amanda Buron, a local mother who was the source of the news stories and who led Monday’s protest, told the Asbury Park Press that two students who are friends of her family were suspended from the school after posting pictures of the gun range trip. After the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the ensuing national hysteria over guns, it was almost inevitable.
She said the action was allegedly taken under a ludicrous board policy that literally prohibited students from having a weapon in their possession, regardless of whether they were in school or part of a school activity.
Buron said one of the students posted a photo of four rifles, magazines and a gun duffel bag to Snapchat with the caption “fun day at the range.” After a screen grab of the photo was shared on social media, the two students were suspended, she said.
A letter to the editor of the Asbury Park Press published Thursday from a classmate of the students backs up her account.
“My two friends, the two who posted a photo on Instagram of themselves at a firearms training session, did receive discipline, and a harsh one at that,” senior Matthew Perrone wrote.
“They were missing from my classes for three days. … They were forced to sit in a room for six hours a day for five days to think about what they had done, meanwhile missing valuable work.
“They initially were suspended for five days, but after the school district was threatened with a lawsuit from a gun organization, the in-school detention was rescinded and erased from the students’ records, making it look like the three days they served in detention never happened.”
The policy in question, which has been changed since the controversy made news, basically put students’ entire lives under the school board’s control.
According to an NJ.com report from Monday, the policy originally said “any student who is reported to be in possession of a weapon of any type for any reason or purpose whether on or off school grounds” (emphasis added) would be subject to disciplinary action up to suspension for one year.
The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs called that out for the nonsense it was, and threatened to sue the district over it.
“Schools do not have the authority to chill the rights of their students off of school grounds, and this blatant infringement of constitutional rights will not be tolerated,” Scott Bach, executive director of the group, told NJ.com before the policy was changed.
Now, according to NJ.com, the policy reads: “Students are forbidden to carry any type of weapon or simulated weapon to school. Strict disciplinary action and legal actions will result if this occurs.” (emphasis added)
So, there’s a lot in dispute about what actually happened here. The school district claims no students were disciplined under a policy, yet at least two people who claim to know are adamant that it did happen.
Regardless, the policy did change as soon as the story became public — even going national in a Fox News report on Sunday.
So, school officials can quibble about the particulars, but the undeniable reality is that a school district in the United States of America actually had, and thought it could enforce, a policy prohibiting students from engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution — even when they were not in school or engaged in school activities.
It took a threat of a lawsuit to change their minds, and judging by the way the school district is responding to the public, it might not be the last one they face.
But this school district definitely needed to be taught a lesson.
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