ABSS superintendent announces ‘zero tolerance’ policy for violent crimes on school grounds

Alamance-Burlington superintendent Dr. Dain Butler has announced that ABSS students who commit certain types of violent crime at school will automatically face long-term suspension and possibly expulsion.

Butler announced the “zero-tolerance” policy in a one-minute video posted on YouTube Friday. His announcement comes after threats involving violence were reported at three ABSS school last week.

“Moving forward, I will have zero tolerance for the following misbehaviors that occur on our campuses: Possession of weapons; assault on our staff and adults; gang-related fights; possession and distribution of illegal substances,” Butler announced in the video. “All of these will result in long-term suspension and possibly expulsion from school. We can do better than this and we will do better…our community deserves my attention on this matter, and I appreciate your support as we move forward this school year.”

Eastern High School was placed on a “soft lockdown” last Wednesday afternoon, after a student reported another student as having a gun. No weapon was located, ABSS officials subsequently confirmed later that day. Public school officials typically describe a “soft lockdown” as an incident in which a school doors are locked, barring outside visitors from entering the building, while the school continues to function normally.

Smith Elementary School received a bomb threat last Thursday, and the school was evacuated until the Burlington police department gave the all-clear, signaling that it was safe to reenter the building, ABSS public information officer Les Atkins told The Alamance News this week.

Also on Thursday, Turrentine Middle School administrators reported a “threat involving violence with a weapon,” Atkins said Monday. No weapon was located in that incident, which did not interrupt classes and was handled by the School Resource Officer, the public information officer elaborated.

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Atkins confirmed for the newspaper that the zero-tolerance policy for the three types of criminal offenses doesn’t represent a new policy for ABSS; instead, it represents a proactive enforcement of existing school policies.

The zero-tolerance policy demonstrates that “we are taking those threats seriously and investigating them,” Atkins said Monday in an interview with The Alamance News. “Even if we come to find out it’s a toy gun, we cannot not take them seriously.”

Each of the three offenses that Butler cited in his YouTube video are among the 16 reportable criminal offenses that state law requires to be reported to law enforcement.

Assaults on school personnel and possession of weapons and illegal drugs by students were the most-frequently reported crimes in ABSS schools in 2018-19, according to a state annual report on school crime and violence.

Due to the statewide school shutdown that began in March 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, the 2018-19 school year is the most recent, complete school year for which the statistics are available from the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). State law requires DPI to compile an annual report on school crime and violence for the General Assembly.

In 2018-19, a total of 200 criminal offenses were reported in all ABSS schools. The top three categories reported in ABSS in 2018-19 were: Possession of illegal drugs (87); possession of weapons other than a firearm (53); and assault on school personnel (23).

By comparison, 14 criminal offenses were reported in ABSS schools during the 2020-21 school year.

However, most ABSS schools were closed from March 2020 until March 2021 due to the pandemic.

The 14 criminal offenses that were reported in ABSS schools during the 2020-21 school year included: Possession of a weapon (5); possession of a firearm (4); possession of illegal drugs (4); and assault on school personnel (1).

ABSS officials provided the newspaper this week with several examples of the types of offenses that will result in long-term suspension or possible expulsion.

“Possession of a firearm or destructive device on campus will result in a 365-day suspension and possible expulsion,” Atkins said this week. “Possession of a knife or other weapon will result in a long-term suspension (and possible expulsion) in the event that a student uses the weapon to cause harm to others, or threatens to do so.

“As for [an] assault on staff, if it causes bodily harm or is an attempt to cause bodily harm, our policy for Rule 18 [within the ABSS Code of Student Conduct] supports long-term suspension or expulsion except for elementary students,” the PIO said. That rule states, “Students shall not cause or attempt to cause bodily harm to teachers, administrators, or other adults.”

Under ABSS policy, a long-term suspension is “anything longer than the 10 days that is assigned at the school level by the principal,” Atkins explained. Offenses involving bodily harm to others, create an ongoing safety concern, or causes major disruptions to instruction or the “orderly operation of the school,” could result in expulsion, he said.

However, Atkins emphasized that any potential expulsion requires the school board’s approval.

“This is a good opportunity for families to have a conversation with [their child and] say, ‘look, we’re in a situation where you can’t yell fire,’” Atkins said Monday, alluding to the analogy of shouting fire in a crowded theater to create panic. “Those matters have to be taken seriously in today’s school climate.”


Eastern High School gets random drug search Wednesday morning: https://alamancenews.com/eastern-high-school-gets-random-drug-search-wednesday-morning/

Principal, Assistant Principal of the Year Named: https://alamancenews.com/abss-names-2022-principal-and-assistant-principal-of-the-year/