EATON — Finding out after the fact a middle school student had brought a gun to school two days earlier this month has raised the question of why the public was not informed earlier. On Tuesday Sept. 19, Eaton Community Schools Superintendent Jeff Parker sent a message to district parents providing his answer.
“I have received enough questions concerning the news story about a gun on campus on Sept. 5-6, that I felt it necessary to send this correspondence to the school community,” Parker wrote. “School districts are faced with many different situations each school year. Each situation is unique with a distinct set of circumstances. There are a few circumstances in this case that are important for you to know. I hope these facts help explain why I did not communicate the presence of the gun on campus before the media coverage.”
Parker continued, “The district did not know about the presence of the gun on campus until nearly a week later. The gun was confiscated at the student’s home five days before the district knew the gun had been on campus.
“Since the pandemic, and even in the years leading up to the pandemic, there has been a significant rise in student mental health issues, not only at Eaton Schools but across the country.
“I can assure you that none of this situation was taken lightly. When the district knew a gun had been on campus, we acted immediately,” Parker said. “However, when considering all factors, including the timeline and mental health impact on our students, I made the decision not to convey the presence of the gun to our students and families.”
“I have had the opportunity to talk with several people who reached out directly with their concerns. I appreciate that they reached out directly,” he noted. “I also appreciate having the opportunity to discuss their concerns. If you would like to discuss your concerns, please contact me.”
Also on Tuesday, Parker discussed the incident with The Register-Herald.
“The overriding reason for the decision to not put something out was a combination — the timeline, the impact of mental health,” Parker ssaid. “And as I put it in the parent square (message to parents) it was almost a week later when we knew it had been there.
“And it was there on that Tuesday (Sept. 5) and Wednesday (Sept. 6). And it came to us on Thursday (Sept. 7) that a relative had reported that he had a gun stolen. The student was questioned and ultimately admitted that he did take it but denied ever having it in school. And there was a lot of work done on (middle school principal) Brian Camp’s part and law enforcement. But ultimately, it was not known until the following Tuesday (Sept. 12,) that it (the gun) had been (at school.)
“I’ve lived in this community for 25 years. I’m not a superintendent that drives into a community for work,” Parker said. “This is my community. All four of my kids graduated from here. I was a high school principal here from 1998 to 2005. I say high school principal because for two years I was the assistant and for five I was the principal. I know a lot of these parents of the kids — I had them when they were kids. I’ve coached in this community. This is my community.
“Every decision I make I am going to do everything I can to make the right decision. And I don’t make those decisions in isolation. I consult with people. I have five bosses. There are legal things here. What some people don’t understand is there are things I can’t say,” he continued. “There are things I can’t put in writing because of legal implications and whether we people like it or not, everybody has rights. And I have to pay attention to that. Other people maybe don’t. I do. And that can sometimes be frustrating. But that’s my job. You may not agree with my decisions. But I can assure you they are not taken lightly. And they’re not made in isolation.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on X @emowenjr.