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CMS is ‘safe and positive place for our students’

Posted: December 5, 2013 5:45 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Two members of the school improvement council (SIC) at Camden Middle School (CMS) say they are satisfied with the way school administrators handled an incident Tuesday morning involving a 13-year-old student bringing a gun and box cutter on campus. Camden’s police chief also praised administrators, saying their choices made it possible for the Camden Police Department (CPD) to complete its investigation.

Some parents and others had expressed concern on social media networks over why CMS Principal Byron Johnson sent out a message to parents at 2 p.m. Tuesday when the incident took place at the beginning of the school day.

Christy Napper is a member of CMS’ SIC. Napper said how the school handled the situation will be discussed at the SIC’s next meeting. However, she said she thought the school handled the situation well. Napper said she wasn’t concerned that the school didn’t send out a message earlier notifying parents of the situation because she didn’t want incorrect information to be circulated.

“I want it to be factual,” Napper said. “They couldn’t have given correct information if (the CPD was) still investigating.”

Napper said everyone hopes schools are prepared for situations like this, but that once something happens, it provides room to make improvements and see what could have been done better. She said Johnson is “very good” about staying in touch with parents and that the message actually came earlier than most general messages, which usually are transmitted later in the evening. 

2010 KCSD Teacher of the Year Lori Cooper, who teaches at CMS and is a member of its SIC, also said she felt that the administration’s timing was wise. Cooper said sending out the message earlier could have “caused unnecessary panic and possible over-reaction.” She said most of the faculty and students did not know the situation took place until the school day ended. Cooper said students have “strong relationships” with their teachers and with one another and the entire situation was a reflection of the climate at CMS.

“Students realize that they can and should report concerns immediately,” Cooper said. “Those who reported are to be commended for their conscientiousness, but the public should know that our students have ongoing, healthy dialogues with their teachers. They know that they can trust us when they report concerns and that they will be handled calmly and quickly. Camden Middle School remains a safe and positive place for our students to learn.”

CPD Chief Joe Floyd said his department needed time to conduct its investigation and move a “potential threat” from the school’s campus. Floyd said the student was immediately detained by CPD officers once administrators knew there were weapons on campus. The student and the weapons were then quickly removed from campus. He said paperwork was filed and the student accepted for detention at the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in Columbia. Officers interviewed other students as well, all of which took time, Floyd said.

An initial CPD incident report stated that the student told officers he brought the gun and knife because he felt threatened by students to whom he owed money. He also told officers, however, that he had not told any administrators or anyone else that he felt fearful.

However, Floyd said that further investigation of the case -- something that took place over several hours and included reviewing video from the school -- revealed the student’s statements to be untrue.

Floyd said that assuming the student had no working knowledge of how to handle a gun and never threatened anyone with it, he was still considered a potential threat and was, therefore, removed from school.

He also said that, coincidentally, as administrators went looking for the student, the boy happened to be walking in the direction they were going. Floyd said “circumstances didn’t make it necessary or desirable” to lock down the school or take any other action.

“Johnson and his staff did a great job,” Floyd said. “No one was in jeopardy or in an unsafe situation once the kid was identified and located. The things that needed to happen happened in this case. I understand the anxiety, but some parents don’t understand that administrators care about the safety of the students in their school just as much as they do.”

KCSD Director of Communications Mary Anne Byrd said much the same concerning Johnson’s timing of sending out the message about the incident. Byrd said the district and/or individual schools usually send out safety-related messages via its automated messaging system -- using voice, text and email -- closer to the end of the school day. General announcements are transmitted in the evening, she said.

Byrd said that since there was no imminent danger Tuesday, there was no need to send out information any earlier. She said the district and individual schools handle these types of situations on a case-by-case basis.

The 13-year-old boy is currently being held by DJJ, charged with having a weapon on school grounds. Floyd said, however, that everyone will do what’s necessary to help him readjust.

“We have to get him through this and help him to be a productive member of society. He’s not the first person to make a mistake at 13,” Floyd said.

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