Ethical Educator

Hunting He Will Go
School Administrator, April 2016

Scenario: A middle school teacher plans to leave from school on a Friday afternoon for a weekend deer hunting trip. As such, the teacher leaves his new .50-caliber rifle displayed on a gun rack inside the rear window of his pickup truck, which is parked in his space outside the school gym. Parents who notice the gun tell the principal, who asks the teacher to immediately move the gun out of sight and then contacts the central office the following Monday for help in dealing with the matter. Is punishment against the teacher warranted?

Kelly Henson:  

Disciplinary action against the teacher must be taken. Events of the past two decades around the world and in our country make this act one that must be addressed.  Context and circumstance are frequently important to properly assess an action. 

In the context of where we are with safety and security concerns in 2016, and considering the gun was plainly visible for all to see, the teacher’s lack of judgment must be addressed.
This teacher violated the law, school system policy and good common sense. Action against him is warranted.

Sarah MacKenzie: 
It seems like common sense that a teacher would not display a gun in a car on school grounds. So he’s guilty of a lapse in judgment in this era of increased awareness and tension around guns and schools. 

Storing a gun in a rack at school in advance of a hunting trip may have been a fairly common practice in some areas until recently, so the teacher might be excused for forgetting that things have changed. The principal was correct in asking him to keep the gun out of sight and for notifying the central office of the parents’ comment and the action taken in response.

I don’t see the teacher deserves any punishment unless there is an explicit policy about guns on school property — which there may be. Even if the policy seems to be more focused on students and visitors, it applies also to teachers, so he should receive a reprimand if there is a policy. If there is none, there should be one formulated and implemented as soon as possible. 

A zero tolerance approach may be extreme, as I have discovered in talking to some administrators, but generally making it clear that any kind of weapon, especially a gun, is not acceptable in school or on the grounds is a must. And teachers as models for children to emulate should be aware of their responsibility for ensuring safety and for honoring the rules of the school.

Mario Ventura:

Punishment against the teacher is warranted if an investigation finds a violation of the law and/or school district policy related to firearms on a school property. The teacher’s actions may be found to be within the acceptable boundaries of the law and school policy. However, they may not be within the boundaries of the school community’s socio-cultural norms in relation to school environments.

In some parts of the country, keeping a rifle in a truck gun rack may be acceptable, and in other parts of the country it may not. An ethical educator considers how parents, students and staff might react to seeing a rifle in a parked vehicle on school grounds. Could storing a gun in a parked vehicle on a school campus cause emotional and psychological distress to members of the school community? Could this action be problematic by adding risk factors to student and staff safety that the school administration is not aware of? 

Shelley Berman: 

Gun laws vary widely nationwide, from allowing individuals with permits to carry guns on campus to the strict prohibition of any weapon on school property. Local attitudes and community values play a role as well. Attitudes toward the appropriateness of this teacher’s action in a rural community where hunting is widely accepted may deviate greatly from attitudes in an urban environment troubled by gun violence. Therefore, it is important to understand relevant state laws, municipal regulations, school board policies and community mores before taking action. 

We expect schools to be safe and secure environments, yet that sense of safety has all too often been undermined by gun violence on school grounds. In this case, parent expressions of concern about the rifle in the truck reflect a realistic fear that children may be in danger, not just from the gun owner, but potentially from someone who might break into the vehicle and remove the rifle from the rack. Most school districts have a policy that prohibits bringing a gun onto school grounds. If a school district lacks such a policy, it should adopt one.

School policy and state law notwithstanding, the action of this individual reflects poor judgment. He has placed his own convenience above the interest of campus safety. Recognizing others’ concern for school safety, he should have left his rifle at home, even if it meant a later start to his hunting trip. 

Although state laws may vary in terms of whether this teacher’s action was legal, a school district has the right to regulate employee behavior. Even if the laws and community mores tolerate guns on campus, at the very least the teacher should be reprimanded. If existing gun laws and policies prohibit the possession of guns on school grounds, much more serious discipline, including possible termination, is appropriate. 

Gun violence in schools across the country has created justifiable concern for the safety of our children. As school administrators charged with protecting the emotional and physical welfare of students, staff and visitors, we must do all we can to ensure safe and secure school environments. 

Each month, School Administrator draws on actual circumstances to raise an ethical decision-making dilemma in K-12 education. Our distinguished panelists provide their own resolutions to each dilemma. Do you have a suggestion for a dilemma to be considered? Send it to:

The Ethical Educator panel consists of Shelley Berman, superintendent, Andover, Mass.; Kelly Henson, executive director, Georgia Professional Standards Commission; Sarah MacKenzie, associate professor of educational leadership, University of Maine at Orono; and Mario Ventura, superintendent, Isaac School District, Phoenix, Ariz., and member of the Model Code of Educator Ethics Task Force.