Did Pinellas County School District violate their own weapons policy?

Share on Nextdoor

In photos sent to CL, elementary school-age children are shown handling a military-style assault rifle on school grounds. District policy states: "... any student who possesses or exhibits a weapon at school, at any school function, or on any school-sponsored transportation, shall be suspended for 10 days and recommended for expulsion. ... Guns and weapons are not allowed in a vehicle on a school campus or at a school activity."


[image-1]


Veterans for Peace spokesperson Dwight Lawton — who has called these veterans fairs "warfests" — said guns on school property is unacceptable for any reason.


“This doesn’t make any sense, especially since their concern over students bringing guns and weapons to school," he says.


(Bilirakus did not respond to calls for comment.)


It's not just the anti-militarism activists that are bothered. At last week's school board meeting —  just after passing a revamped weapons policy — a few board members also expressed concern over the inconsistency.


"It doesn't make sense to me that it's okay to have weapons [at this event] when we have a policy that we don't [allow] weapons on school grounds," said board member Janet Clark after viewing the photos provided by Lawton.


Added board member Linda Lerner, "I did see, in the pictures, young students playing with the guns. I think you can have a military appreciation day without that going on. This needs to be looked at." [image-2]


Jane Gallucci, who was at the event, cautioned against overreacting over the photos.


"If we go down that slippery slope," she said, "then you're telling ROTC members also that you can't have [guns] either."


(Students in ROTC are given written permission to carry their marching rifles.)


In Gus Bilirakus' application for the use of school facilities, there is no mention of weapons. School board attorney Jim Robinson said the district knew there would be some military items at the event, such as a humvee and helicopter. He suggested the weapons policy may need exemptions for the veterans fair.


“We’re going to have to carve out some exceptions to the ban,” he told CL. “We don’t want to ban that.”


The school board is expected to look at the issue during an upcoming meeting on the weapons policy.


[image-3]

On August 9, Rep. Gus Bilirakus organized a Veterans Appreciation Day at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs. The public was invited to celebrate veterans and enjoy exhibits of military equipment and children activities. But they were also allowed to handle at least one assault rifle, which violates the school district's weapons policy.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.