Letter To The Editor: School Board President Addresses Safety, Misinformation And Public Input Issues

By Jim Hall, School Board President
Los Alamos Public Schools

This letter is to share important information about school safety in Los Alamos, correct misinformation in recent news reports, and to reinforce that the School Board always considers public input.   

I begin with job number one – safety for students and staff in the Los Alamos Public Schools and local communities. Children are our greatest asset and they are the future. It is our grave responsibility to assure that learning occurs in a place that is safe and free from harm. 

At the Aug. 25, 2016, public School Board meeting, with “Gun Safe at Middle and High School” on the agenda, Police Chief Dino Sgambellone discussed changes in training for officers and improving strategies for protecting school communities. The Police Chief and School Board continue to be proactive in improving our safety protocols. In spite of the unfortunate high profile of the issue recently, the public should know that guns are only one part of extensive student safety plans. Placing a gun safe at the mid and high schools is an important, relatively minor, part of the LAPS overall safety protection strategy. Currently, weapons that might be most effective in dealing with an “active shooter” situation are stored in a police cruiser in the parking lot. Moving those weapons to gun safes inside the school not only provides better protection for such weapons, but also may provide precious improvements in response time. 

LAPS believes that working to ensure that School Resource Officers (SROs) will never have to use a weapon at school is among the most important parts of our strategy. Use of a weapon is only to protect against loss of life. However, these prevention plans are based upon lessons learned from active shooter incidents in schools and other public venues across the country.  

Unfortunately, there has been misinformation about this issue. SROs, who are trained police officers, armed with their normal protective equipment, including a hand gun, have been part of LAPS and many schools in New Mexico and the nation for over 10 years. SROs have been equipped with the training and tools needed to do their specific job – safety for all students and staff at school. SROs are carefully selected for this important duty. There is no “arsenal of assault weapons” on campus. For fire safety, we have special doors, strict building codes, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems. 

The School community, including the school safety committee, the administration, and our protective partners in Los Alamos County, are working together to build a similar holistic “violence” safety plan for our students. This is a carefully thought out continuation of that policy and action. There are no active threats in the Los Alamos Schools. However, in light of unfortunate national trends, LAPS needs to have prevention and protection strategies in place.

With extensive public and staff input, governing documents have been developed under School Board direction: Weapons on School Premises Policy 5154, Regulation 5154R, and LAPS and Los Alamos County Memorandum of Agreement 16-0914. Copies of the School Board policy and regulation can be found on the LAPS website: http://laschools.net/Page/420

With regard to school safety and all education policy, we encourage parental engagement, suggestions from all, and community dialogue. This is part of ongoing work with the community regarding mental and physical health in our public schools. Our Strategic Plan focus areas for this school year begin with (1) Student Well-Being, (2) Student Learning, and (3) Teacher and Staff Well-Being and Excellence. We prepare capable and confident life-long learners.

I encourage feedback and comments about this letter. In addition, the School Board is meeting at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 13, in the School Board Room, 2075 Trinity Dr. (map attached). The meeting includes information about school construction and an agenda item for community input and comments on any topic.

Directions to LAPS Boardroom. Courtesy/LAPS

WEAPONS ON SCHOOL PREMISES 5154

Los Alamos Public Schools

The Los Alamos Public School Board (“School Board”) recognizes that the presence of weapons in school not only creates unacceptable risks of injury or death, but also creates a climate that undermines the educational purposes of the schools.

Accordingly, in Policy 5154, the School Board forbids the possession, custody, or use of weapons by students in or around school premises or at school sponsored activities.

Policy 5154 is enacted in part to implement the requirements of the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 20 U.S.C.A. § 7151 (2002), New Mexico Statutes and Regulations, and it is the intention of the Board that it be interpreted to conform to provisions of law.

This policy shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the 5131R: STUDENT CONDUCT – DISCIPLINE, which states that school authorities shall follow procedures when taking appropriate action that provides a student with due process. A fuller explanation of due process can be found in the Los Alamos Public School regulation referenced above and the 6.11.2.12 NMAC (2000) et seq. 

WEAPONS ON SCHOOL PREMISES 5154R

Los Alamos Public Schools

The purpose of this regulation is to establish fair and consistent school district procedures to ensure that all Los Alamos Public School students who are in possession of a weapon on school property or at school activities are subject to appropriate disciplinary actions.

Definitions:

For the purposes of this regulation, a “weapon” shall mean any device, instrument, material or substance (animate or inanimate) that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury. The term “weapon” shall also include, but is not limited to, the following NMSA 1978 § 30-1-12(B):

1. Any firearm that is designed to or may readily be converted to or will expel a projectile by the action of an explosion. A “firearm” is further defined as any weapon, including a starter gun, which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. This definition also includes the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or
firearm silencer, or any destructive device NMSA 1978 § 22-5-4.7, 6.11.2.7(W) NMAC (2000).
2. Any destructive device that is an explosive or incendiary device, bomb, grenade, rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces, missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter-ounce, mine or similar device is considered a weapon.
3. BB guns, pellet guns, airsoft and other devices that expel projectiles through various means of projection are also included in the definition of “weapon”. 

4. Any other item or device which may be used as a weapon, including all pocket knives or other knives regardless of length of blade, or other objects, even if manufactured for a nonviolent purpose, that have a potentially violent use, or any “look-a-like” objects that resemble objects which have a potentially violent use (if, under the surrounding circumstances, the purpose of keeping or carrying the objects is for use, or threat of use) may be considered a weapon. 

School Premises: as used in this Regulation, means, 1) the buildings and grounds, including playgrounds, playing fields and parking areas and any school bus of any public elementary, middle or high school in or on which school or school-related activities are being operated under the supervision of the school board; or 2) any other public buildings or grounds, including playing fields and parking areas that are not public school property, in or on which public school-related and sanctioned activities are being performed. NMSA 1978 § 30-7-2.1(B).

Prohibitions:

No student shall bring any Weapon or Firearm onto School Premises, nor carry or keep any Weapon, or Firearm onto school property, or while attending, or participating in any school activity, including during transportation to or from such activity.

Exceptions:

The following exceptions to the prohibition of weapons in school apply: 

1. weapons under the control of law enforcement officials and school security personnel;
2. a student, instructor or other school-authorized personnel engaged in Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps programs or state-authorized hunter safety training instruction; or
3. a person conducting or participating in a school-approved program, class or other activity involving the carrying of a deadly weapon. NMSA 1978 § 30-7-2.1.

Enforcement:

1. This policy shall be enforced according to the Board’s Policy 5131 and 5131R regarding Student Conduct – Discipline; Student Search and Seizure Policy, 5155R. Disciplinary actions pursuant to this Policy shall follow the procedures prescribed by Policy 5131R and 6.11.2.10 NMAC (2000), 6.11.2.12 NMAC (2000).
2. Any student who brings a Weapon to the School Premises or a schoolsponsored activity shall, in addition to Penalties in this Regulation 5154, be referred to appropriate law enforcement authorities or the Children, Youth and Families Department.

Penalties for Violations:

Any student found to be in violation of this regulation shall be subject to discipline, including short-term, in or out of school suspension not to exceed ten days, long-term suspension, or expulsion. In compliance with the federal and state Gun Free Schools Acts, any student found to be in violation of this policy due to a knowing possession of a firearm, as defined in this policy, shall, at a minimum, be expelled from school for a period of not less than one year, provided that the Superintendent or the Board of Education may modify such penalty in appropriate cases at their discretion provided such modification is in writing.

This policy shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S. Code § 1415. School personnel may remove a student to an interim alternative educational setting for not more than 45 school days without regard to whether the behavior is determined to be a manifestation of the child’s disability if the child carries a weapon to or possesses a weapon at school, on school premises, or to or at a school function under the jurisdiction of Los Alamos Public Schools. 34 CFR 300.530(g)(1). The student’s IEP team determines the
student’s interim alternative educational setting. 34 CFR 300.531. When an appeal under 34 CFR 300.532 (challenging the student’s placement or manifestation determination) has been made by either the parent or the district, the student must remain in the interim alternative educational setting pending the decision of the hearing officer or until the expiration of the 45 day time period, whichever occurs first, unless the parent and school officials agree otherwise.

Regulation Adopted 11/15__________________________________________________

Los Alamos Public Schools

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