Vice principal with gun sparks law, school policy debate

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - The local vice principal who brought a gun to school is out of jail, but the incident highlights differences between state law on weapons at schools, and the more restrictive policies districts may have.

Caught up in the debate, Tevis Junior High Vice Principal Kent Williams is now on paid administrative leave.

"We are a gun-free zone, and that's a 1,000-feet buffer between us and any folks possessing a firearm," Panama-Buena Vista Assistant Superintendent Gerrie Kincaid explained.

That's the basics of a state law, which they originally thought Williams had violated.

He was first arrested on Thursday, and then released, when police consulted with the Kern County District Attorney's Office and determined Williams falls under an exception in the state rule.

The Gun-Free School Zone Act went on the books in 1995 and prohibits any weapons at schools. But, the law does not apply for "a person holding a valid license to carry the firearm."

That license is often called a concealed carry permit, or CCW, and police say Williams has a valid CCW.

On the other hand, the district says they have a policy that's more restrictive.

"Our policy, which is linked to the Gun-Free Zone code, is that no employee, nobody, should be on campus with a firearm," Kincaid said.

She says the district's only exception is if a person has the "express authorization" of the district superintendent or their designee.

That's what Williams has run afoul of, though some parents say they support what Williams did.

"I honestly think he was trying to protect the children," Rosie Madrigal said.

Kincaid said the district heard from parents who support the vice principal, and those who support the administration and their actions.

The more restrictive polices about guns on campus are recommended by the Schools Legal Services operated in Kern County. It reflects their opinion about the state law's exception for those holding a license to carry a gun.

"Due to this exception, Schools Legal Services has advised for several years that districts consider adopting a policy which prohibits firearms on campus, even if employees or others have a concealed carry weapons permit issued by the local sheriff," Kern County Superintendent of Schools spokesman Rob Meszaros said in a statement.

"There is legal authority for such a policy," Meszaros continued. "Thus, while the action of carrying a weapon in a school zone may not be in violation of the Penal Code, it can violate district policy."

Kincaid is certain the incident, the law and the policy will spark debate. She says if the school board takes up discussion of their guns on campus policy, that will be done in public meetings.

Kincaid said the district is now in the process of naming an interim vice principal at Tevis, and parents and students will be notified when that happens.

She said administrators got a tip on Thursday that Williams had the gun on campus. It was found in a backpack in his office. Why did he have it there?

"I'm not sure," Kincaid responded. "That's something we'll investigate and try to find out more information on." She said administrators now have a lot to sort out. "With regard to board policy, it was clearly a violation of our policy, and that's something we'll further investigate, get more information and make a personnel determination at a later date," she said.

Kincaid said the district policy is that no one should have weapons on campus, even if they have a concealed carry permit. She said that specifically addresses students and employees. And, what about anyone else who may have a concealed carry permit?

"They should not come on campus with a gun," Kincaid responded. "We expect folks would not come on to our campuses with firearms, except in the instance that they are law enforcement."