Brad Jennings discusses his concerns about a toy gun that was passed out to students to members of the Rutherford County Board of Education during a Nov. 15, 2012, meeting in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/M. Kemph)
The decision to add “toy gun” verbiage to the Rutherford County Board of Education policies has been approved for a second reading, but some community members say if passed it is only a step in the right direction.
After a controversial incident at Barfield Elementary School began gathering concerns from local parents, Director of Schools Don Odom said the board needed to take a closer look at the state’s zero tolerance policy and possibly make an amendment.
During a School Board meeting Thursday night, Odom said he and all board members take child safety very seriously, and due to the poignant parent outcry, adding “toy guns” to the policy seemed like the best option.
Odom said toy guns without projectile capability have not previously violated the state’s zero tolerance policy, but with the proposed policy amendment it will be punishable by suspension in the future.
“We are going to be as proactive as we possibly can in addressing these issues,” Odom said. “I’m going to assure you that this board and I are going to respond to this within the legal constraints of government. We are not going to overlook this.”
One such issue Kevin Fisher, a Murfreesboro resident, said he thinks the director should address is consistency of policy enforcement.
“This policy is a start, but there is still a lot more work to be done,” Fisher said. “Rules should be applied across the board.”
Despite his criticism of the School Board, Fisher said administrators have fairly applied the rules in previous situations, but this student’s cultural belief derailed procedure.
Late in the afternoon on Oct. 30 a teacher handed out goodie bags given by a Muslim student in honor of Eid al-Adha (pronounced EED al-UHD-huh), a holiday in celebration of Abraham’s obedience to Allah. Now, it is common to donate to charities that benefit the poor and exchange presents during the holiday.
“The teacher gave no reference or explanation of the holiday to the class upon handing out the gifts,” Odom said.
He said since the religious affiliation of the gift was not discussed current policy was not broken.
The bags were gender specific, a doll and jewelry for the girls and a toy gun and games for the boys.
According to school officials, the teacher did not inspect the bags due to a shortage in time before class dismissal. A concerned parent notified officials when one of the children got home with the toy.
During the public comment segment of the meeting Brad Jennings, a Murfreesboro resident, said he was a concerned parent who felt there was a lack of judgment by the teacher.
“This issue isn’t as much a violation of policy as it a lack of judgment,” Jennings said to the board. “And I think there as been a real lack of information given to the parents, and that’s what has caused most of the concern.”
A lack of judgment that Vicki Twitty, a Murfreesboro resident and retired substitute teacher, said could have resulted in chaos.
Holding up an enlarged picture of the toy gun, Twitty said the authentic look of the toy could have caused officials to feel there was some kind of threat.
“This gun looks very real to me,” Twitty said. “What if they pulled it out on the bus? The chaos that could ensue is terrifying.”
While this amendment awaits a second reading, Odom said he is confident it will pass.
He also stressed the importance of child safety, noting he plans to take more steps to ensure that all faculty and administrators are properly trained in both cultural and policy procedures.