Gateway Sun

Nearly two weeks after an incident in which a Gateway Charter Elementary student brought a small knife to school and threatened to stab a classmate, the facts have finally emerged.

According to a report from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the threat was made on the morning of September 25 and a search of the backpack of the student who made the threat turned up a Swiss Army Knife.

Some parents were furious that they learned of the incident on social media and not from school officials. Gateway Charter has made no public statement that the incident occurred, however they have acknowledged the situation to parents who contacted them directly to ask them about it.

Gateway Charter officials said that their administrators simply followed the Lee County School District’s Code of Conduct once the knife was discovered.

School spokesperson Colleen Reynolds wrote in an email to the Gateway Sun: “If ever a situation is brought to our attention that requires investigation, we take that very seriously. We conduct a thorough investigation, interview witnesses and take all appropriate actions. We follow the Lee County Code of Conduct. Due to privacy laws, we are unable to discuss specific student situations.”

But if it was true that they were following the Code of Conduct, they would have been obligated under School Board Policy 4.09 (page 48 of Code of Conduct) to report the stabbing threat the the police, and also to report the knife to the police (page 39). The school reported neither issue to the police.

Gateway Charter was likely referring to the aspects of the Code of Conduct specifically as it relates to punishing students, which helps their case for the seemingly lenient punishment. The Code gives principals very wide latitude in cases such as this one. In this particular situation the result was that a threat from one student to another to stab them, as well as being discovered with a knife on campus, resulted in a 1-day suspension, according to the LCSO report.

The verbal threat of violence was a “Level 2” violation in the LCSD’s Code of Conduct. Other Level 2 offenses include robbery and fighting.

Meanwhile, the size of the knife blade would determine the seriousness of the violation under the Code. Any blade 2.5 inches or longer would qualify as a Level 3 offense – the most serious level, which includes other offenses such as arson and sexual assault. A blade shorter than 2.5 inches would downgrade the violation to a Level 2 offense.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office – who were called by the threatened child’s parents – were unable to determine the size of the blade because, according to their report: “The school destroyed the chain of custody with the knife”.

This was done by returning the knife to the child’s parents instead of confiscating it and handing it over to the authorities.

The Sun contacted school officials to ask if anyone had measured the size of the blade as part of their “thorough investigation”, but they had not responded to that question as of press time.

Some parents have become frustrated that Gateway Charter is using word-play to talk their way out of the situation. One parent told us that Principal Angela Carter repeatedly uttered the statement that “no weapon” was found, and that she refused to even say the word “knife” when pressed for details.

Reynolds seems to hold the same viewpoint as Carter, as she stated to the Sun yesterday that, “If a weapon was brought to school, it would have been handled as a weapon.”

Small knives are not officially deemed “weapons” under Florida Statute. So it’s possible that Carter is using that technicality to say that “no weapon” was involved in the incident. However, since the knife’s blade may not have been measured before the chain of custody was “destroyed”, we simply don’t know if Carter is right or wrong when she says that “no weapon” was found.

Either way, a knife was found. And some parents view all knives as weapons, regardless of the size of the blade.

Reynolds stated in an email that Gateway Charter would no longer be commenting on this story.

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In my opinion, the school officials only came up with the “we were following the Lee County Code of Conduct” narrative once they discovered that their lenient punishment was actually permissible under the Code. Because once they were challenged about other parts of the same Code that they clearly did not follow, they went all “well aren’t you Mister Smarty-Pants” on me.

Let’s be clear:

If Gateway Charter had suspended the student for the maximum allowable 10 days, and made sure it was understood that if the student even sneezed wrong they were gone for good – and thus actually showed the other child’s family that the school was taking this incident seriously, this story never would have been written.

But since this incident came out in social media circles, nothing has happened and concerned parents have been contacting me every single day asking for updates.

Gateway Charter officials, for their part, are growing frustrated that they are still being pressed for answers. Reynolds, the school spokesperson assigned to work with the media, resorted to calling me names and hurling a variety of insults via email (highly unusual behavior from a professional spokesperson). She also included what I interpreted as a legal threat by cc’ing an attorney to the email chain out of nowhere. Reynolds rounded out her email by accusing this publication of making up stories.

But, of course, this story isn’t made up.

It happened. And the reaction from parents has varied widely.

Some have called for the student in question to be automatically expelled, while others have been more angry at the school’s lack of transparency and communication in the matter. Some other parents heaped praise on Gateway Charter.

But what if it was their own child, and not somebody else’s, that was threatened like this – and the school’s response was to say it was all being blown out of proportion?

And mincing words about a knife not technically being a weapon really isn’t something you’d want your children’s school principal to be saying. I don’t know how they ever thought that was a good idea.

A prosecution affidavit was filed in order to press charges against the student who brought the knife and made the threat, but it is not known if charges will be pressed by the police or not.

The child who brought the knife is extremely lucky that Carter favored leniency, because she was in the position to throw the book if she wanted to. On the other side of that coin, the parent of the other student is feeling as though Carter did little to protect her child and is completely livid at the principal. I’m pretty sure I would feel the exact same way.

Both students still attend Gateway Charter Elementary, although the mother of the threatened student told the Sun she’s looking in to other options.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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