By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — A student who brings a gun to school or a school-sponsored event faces an automatic one-year expulsion under a new policy approved by the School Board.
The board voted, 4-0, Tuesday to adopt a stricter district weapons policy to bring it in line with the state’s Safe School Zone law, according to Superintendent Michael Delahanty.
But the new policy does not call for tougher action against a student found with other types of weapons, such as a knife.
The student would face the same discipline outlined in the previous policy, which allows the school principal to immediately suspend the individual for 10 days.
That policy also permits the superintendent to impose an additional 10-day suspension, Delahanty said. The School Board could then decide to expel the student for up to a year.
There have not been any gun-related incidents in Salem schools or at school functions elsewhere, Delahanty said.
He said the policy change, proposed last month, was recommended by the district’s legal counsel and the New Hampshire School Boards Association.
Liability concerns raised by Salem School Board members at their meeting Sept. 24 prompted Delahanty to take another look at the proposal.
Board member Michael Carney Jr. questioned whether the policy would cover students who bring weapons to school events not on district property, such as a prom, since state law allows guns to be carried in public places.
Delahanty assured Carney Tuesday night that a student could still be punished for bringing a weapon to those places. But Carney, who said he consulted with a lawyer, still had concerns.
“He said, ‘I don’t think you have a legal leg to stand on,’” Carney said.
Carney said he was afraid the district would be sued.
There also were questions about what the district could do if an adult turned up at an event legally carrying a gun. Delahanty said the only thing school officials or chaperones could do is notify police.
“It does not preclude our staff from making contact with the police department,” he said.
Carney and School Board Chairman Bernard Campbell have questioned whether the district needs two policies — one dealing with weapons at school and the other with weapons at school-sanctioned events held off school property.
Delahanty said Tuesdayonly one policy would be required. Campbell was out of town and did not attend the meeting.
Delahanty and board member Peter Morgan said they hope there won’t be a need to refer to the weapons policy.
“Let’s hope this never has to be enacted,” Delahanty said.
When the district first proposed the policy change, it drew criticism from Concord attorney Penny Dean, a gun rights advocate, and Mitch Kopacz, president of Gun Owners of New Hampshire.
“We’ll keep a pretty close eye on this,” Kopacz said, calling it an infringement on constitutional rights.
Both called the policy unnecessary and a knee-jerk reaction.
“That’s really shortsighted and ignorant for educators to do something like that,” Dean said yesterday. “New Hampshire is a common sense state and I don’t think that is a common sense way.”
She said a teenager who drives his father’s pickup to school could be expelled just because the parent did not take his hunting rifle out of the vehicle.
Automatic expulsion also strips the principal of the right to make an informed decision on whether the student should be expelled, Dean said.
“Principals, in order to do what’s fair and just, need to take into account each student and each particular set of circumstances,” she said.
Municipalities and school districts across the country, including Salem, began tightening their weapons policies and security procedures following the fatal shootings of 26 people at a Newtown, Conn., school in December.
Salem has since improved security systems at its schools.