Angered by word of the disciplining of two Lacey High School students for a gun-related social media post, 200 parents, community members and other supporters of the Second Amendment on Monday let the Board of Education know they don’t want the district trampling on their rights or meddling in their home lives.
“You guys are reaching into our private life, the private life of our children,” said one parent, Lewis Fiordimondo, who has twins in pre-kindergarten and a daughter at the high school. “It’s not your place. It’s not the school’s place.”
Another dad, Frank Horvath, whose son is a senior at Lacey High, put things in blunter terms.
“It’s none of your damn business what our children do outside of school,” Horvath told the seven board members toward the end of a four-hour meeting, most of it occupied by speaker after speaker venting anger and frustration at school officials largely unable to respond due to confidentiality rules.
The unusually large turnout for Monday night’s board meeting in the high school auditorium was prompted by a five-day in-school suspension of two senior boys after one of them posted a photo of themselves with guns at a local shooting range, away from school property and not during school hours.
The photo, which showed four rifles, ammunition magazines and a duffel bag, was shared by one of the students on Snapchat with the caption “fun day at the range,” said Amanda Buron, whose daughter is a friend of one of the boys. Buron said the suspension was dropped after four days following a public outcry.
The two boys have not been publicly identified, and Buron declined to name them. She said neither the boys nor family members were at the meeting, and that the parents of her daughter’s friend did not want to talk about the case.
“They’re not ready,” Buron said in a brief interview.
District officials have declined to comment on the incident. After the meeting Monday night, Board President Robert Klaus, Vice President Shawn Giordano and Board Attorney Chris Supsie all refused even to characterize the status of the situation, including whether it remained under investigation.
This after the language of a district policy in the student handbook was quietly amended last week following a local uproar in the Lacey community and the threat of a lawsuit by the Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs of New Jersey, whose lawyer, Daniel Schmutter, was at Monday’s board meeting.
Before the policy was changed, it had stated that, “any student who is reported to be in possession of a weapon of any type for any reason or purpose whether on or off school grounds,” would be subject to penalties including up to a one-year suspension.
Now, the policy omits any mention of possessing a weapon off school grounds or the length of a suspension. The revamped policy also adds a note about school buses.
“Students are forbidden to carry any type of weapon or simulated weapon to school,” the revamped policy states. “Strict disciplinary action and legal actions will result if this occurs. Any person who knowingly has in his possession any imitation firearm in or upon any part of the building… without the written authorization of the governing officer of the institution, or while on any school bus is a disorderly person.”
Before enduring Monday night’s three-hour tongue lashing from the public, Klaus, Supsie and Wigley told the crowd that the policy had been tweaked to address concerns that had been raised over the past several days. And in an effort to assure angry Second Amendment supporters that he was one of them, Klaus told the crowd that he himself was a gun owner and a member of the National Rifle Association, as is Giordano.
“I have guns, I grew up in a family with guns,” said Klaus. “We learned about guns, we respect guns.”
Klaus also insisted several times that he would have liked to answer speakers’ questions about what happened and the district’s response, but he was bound by confidentiality rules.
“Nobody in the room would want us talking about their children in public,” Klaus said early in the meeting, in a rare instance when a district official drew even a smattering of applause.
One speaker, former Lacey school board member Regina Discenza, defended the district’s actions, which were prompted by a report of the photo from a concerned parent, after 17 students and adults were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“In light of what happened in Parkland, Florida, how can anyone say this board did not do its job?” said Discenza, whose remarks were booed by some and prompted one man to stand up and walk out.
Few in the crowd were in a conciliatory mood, and some said the two boys’ punishment was just one more example of how traditional values and the people who hold them were denigrated by liberals in education, the media and government.
“People like us are under attack,” John Pinto, a 32-year-old property manager who was at the meeting with his wife and two sons, said in an interview.
Ken Pelican, a 59-year-old union pipe fitter and gun owner who was at the meeting with his 27-year-old son, Corey, said board members were hypocrites for standing with the crowd to face the flag, hands on hearts, at the start of the meeting, after having denied the two boys their First and Second Amendment rights.
“They had the audacity to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance but they don’t want to support the Constitution?” Pelican said.