Superintendent took gun to ND school after threat

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Associated Press

Posted on October 10, 2013 at 1:05 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 10 at 11:01 AM

After more than 20 years in education, D'Wayne Johnston says a confrontation with a student prompted him to bring a gun to school in the small North Dakota community where he's a superintendent.

Now the incident is raising concerns about student safety in an area where the population has exploded in recent years amid an oil boom. It's also prompted Johnston to resign from his job as superintendent of Tioga's public schools, though he says he plans to stay in education.

Johnston told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday that despite his worries, he should have turned to police instead of carrying a gun to the high school a day after the confrontation with a student who was expelled.

Johnston wouldn't describe the boy's threat in detail, but he said it kept him up that night.

"It led me to believe that a much heighted level of student and staff safety as well as my own was necessary," said Johnston, 49.

After several people noticed the gun, Johnston acknowledged carrying it. He then offered to resign, prompting the school board to hold an emergency meeting last Friday. The board accepted Johnston's resignation, effective at the end of the year.

Tioga Police Chief Sean Duisen said investigators would look into whether Johnston broke any laws, though district officials had not reported it as a crime.

The Tioga Tribune first reported the story and covered Friday's emergency school board meeting.

North Dakota was one of several states where legislatures discussed gun laws after last winter's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. North Dakota's Republican-controlled Legislature ultimately rejected a measure that would have allowed people with concealed handgun permits to carry their weapons in schools.

Jossie Nielsen, who has two children at the school, said she's concerned that that some school board members might not be aware of the details of how the situation with Johnston is being handled. Nielsen said that while her son was unfazed by the incident, her daughter was surprised.

"Not that she doesn't feel safe," said Nielson, 39, "but he felt the need to bring the gun."

School board President Mark Schmidt, who has two children in the high school, said he's still getting calls from people who are divided about whether Johnston should leave now or be allowed to finish out the school year.

"Right now, I do not believe he is a danger to anyone and he admitted to the wrongdoing," Schmidt said in explaining the decision to allow Johnston to remain for now.

Also, a school principal is on medical leave, he said. He also noted that the school staff is facing increased pressures because the district's enrollment roughly doubled within the past three years amid the oil boom in western North Dakota. The district now has nearly 500 students.

Duisen said police haven't received a formal complaint about the incident and that he only learned about it when he read a story in the local paper.

Schmidt said the board plans to assemble a school safety committee at its next meeting.

"We've been a little corner of the country that has not been affected like the rest of the world. And things are just catching up fast here," Nielson said.

Johnston, who has been at the Tioga district nine years, six as superintendent, said he plans to stay in education.

"What I did was not an appropriate way to deal with school safety," Johnston said. But he said he hopes good comes from it, including a better understanding of where students are coming from and how community resources can help everyone, "so no one person has to feel like they have to take it on themselves."

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