NJ school changes gun rule after NRA group’s lawsuit threat
LACEY — A school district under fire from gun advocates has changed a student handbook after the state chapter of the NRA threatened a civil rights lawsuit over a rule that ostensibly prohibited students from handling guns off school grounds.
The controversy erupted this week after a Facebook post claimed that two students had been punished with detention after they shared a picture captioned "fun day at the range."
The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, which is the New Jersey chapter of the National Rifle Association, issued its legal warning Thursday after finding a Lacey High School parent/student handbook that prohibited students from using guns not only on school grounds but at home.
Other district policy documents, however, noted that only "unlawful" weapons conduct off school grounds was subject to school discipline.
Superintendent Craig Wigley on Friday sent a message to parents saying that the language in the handbook would be updated and denied that the district's gun policy had been used to punish any student.
But the policy that Wigley cited is not the handbook rule that the gun rights group is challenging.
"No rights were violated. No student(s) has/have been disciplined/suspended under Policy 5611- removal of pupils from the general education program for weapons/firearms offenses now or since my tenure," Wigley wrote.
"The recent rumors and social media posts are not related to Policy 5611 as no student has been disciplined for violating Policy 5611. The administration appreciates the respectful feedback we have received."
Wigley's email did not directly address the students in question. He has previously declined to comment specifically on the two students citing privacy concerns. One of the students said on Facebook that he was punished for sharing the photo because it disrupted the school climate.
ANJRPC Executive Director Scott Bach said Wigley's statement addresses a different policy than the one cited by his group and accused the schools chief of "misdirection."
The handbook prohibited students from being "in possession of a weapon of any type for any reason or purpose whether on or off school grounds during the academic year."
"The district has its own policy but the school has its own handbook, which is different from what the district's policy is," Bach told New Jersey 101.5 on Saturday. "So for the superintendent to point to a different policy, not the one at issue, and saying nobody was punished under that is very disingenuous."
Bach said the handbook has since been "quietly rewritten." He provided full copies of the handbooks to New Jersey 101.5. The revised version is now on the high school website.
Wigley acknowledged the need for a revision in his email to parents.
"Representatives of the student body and Mr. Brandis, high school principal, have brought to my attention concerns regarding language contained in the high school handbook. There has been confusion regarding the intent of this language. Please be rest assured that we are in the process of clarifying this language in a manner that would be consistent with district Policy 5611."
Bach said the ANJROC lawsuit threat remained on the table and said the policy as it appeared in the handbook violates the First and Second Amendments.
"The students need to have their record cleared and the need to be apologized to and the school needs to never do this again. If we're forced to sue, we will. But if they do the right thing that won't be necessary," Bach said.
Wigley could not be reached for comment Saturday morning.