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Byrd: Punishment doesn't fit the crime of gun in school

Klark Byrd

When Tioga schools Superintendent D'Wayne Johnston brought a handgun to school on Oct. 2, he may have meant well. After being threatened by a student with known behavioral issues, Johnston decided -- without alerting the police -- to take the safety of his teachers and students into his own hands by packing heat in a behind-the-back holster.

Tioga's school board was alerted to the matter by a concerned staff member who had taken notice of Johnston's poorly concealed weapon. Johnston was confronted on the matter and willingly admitted to the allegation. Johnston's reaction was to end his six-year career as superintendent by submitting his resignation, effective on the final day of his contract with the school district -- June 30.

"I really believe that it's going to be in the best interest of the kids, the school, the community and myself," Johnston said in a news report published Thursday. "I've let this community down in a big way."

Tioga's school board president, Mark Schmidt, accepted the resignation and will be placing a letter of reprimand in Johnston's file.

But that's not going far enough, says the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. In an email Friday, the group encouraged the Tioga school board to make Johnston's resignation effective immediately.

"This is exactly why we don't want firearms in schools -- teachers arming themselves against students," Susan Beehler, North Dakota Moms Demand Action chapter leader, said in the email. "What did Mr. Johnston intend to do with the gun? Wave it around in a threatening manner? Shoot the student if provoked? Hot-tempers and fear can lead to shootings that would otherwise not happen if there were no gun present -- this has been proven time-and-time again, with disastrous results."

Whether you agree or disagree with North Dakota lawmakers who shot down a proposal in the last legislative session that would have allowed persons with a concealed carry permit to bring their weapons into schools, Beehler raises a few good questions. What were Johnston's plans with the gun had the student returned? Have an ol' fashioned, Alamo-style, guns-blazing shootout?

But if Johnston is correct that his resignation is in the best interest of the students, school and community, why wait until the end of the school year?

I know times are tough for Oil Patch schools in need of staff, and finding a superintendent -- even an interim superintendent -- would be difficult, but not impossible.

Had a student brought the gun to school, would the school district wait to expel him or her until the end of the school year? Certainly not. Punishment would be severe and it would be immediate, even if the student said -- as Johnston said -- that they felt their personal safety was no longer in jeopardy.

Although I'm a firm believer in America's right to bear arms, I submit that until and unless it becomes legal for school administrators and staff to bring concealed weapons to school, Johnston's punishment should be no different than it would be for a student.

"I do not feel that D'Wayne is a threat and he understands that he cannot bring a weapon to school," Schmidt said.

I can't help but wonder if the school board president would be as forgiving to a student who decides one day to pack a little heat while walking the school halls.

Byrd is the news editor for The Dickinson Press.

Email him at or tweet him at klarkbyrd.