Anyone who’s followed the news in Helena the past few months knows that few issues bring as much attention as what’s going on in the public schools.
Firearms, too, are a topic near and dear to the hearts of many Montanans.
Mix the two, and you get, well, you get what’s going on in Columbia Falls on Monday night.
Right after Thanksgiving, officials at Columbia Falls High School announced that contraband dogs would be sweeping the school parking lot. That announcement spurred the memory of 16-year-old honor student Demarie DeReu, who had been hunting over the holiday weekend and remembered that she had neglected to remove her hunting rifle from the trunk of her car.
She promptly told school officials about it, and that’s where the trouble began.
DeReu was suspended, and faces a potential 21-day expulsion. That expulsion hearing is Monday night.
The federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 2004 mandates a one-year expulsion for any student who brings a gun onto school property, though Montana law indicates there’s some wiggle room for each case to be considered on its own merits, and school officials have said they won’t seek a lengthy expulsion.
There have been too many senseless tragedies, too many lockdowns, too many horrific incidents of violence in schools for this episode to be simply swept aside. But are suspension and/or expulsion really warranted in this case?
From all accounts, once she realized there was a problem, DeReu did the right thing. She absolutely made a mistake in bringing the rifle to school, and for that there should be some consequence — but she owned up to it, and for that she should be commended.
As with so many other parts of life, this situation reminds us that so few things are truly black and white. There are shades of gray to practically every issue of consequence, and nuance, circumstance and “the particulars” absolutely matter. Think how easy life would be if every decision was a simple yes/no, up/down, black/white. But even in the seemingly ironclad case of bringing a firearm onto school property — who could possibly argue that’s a good idea, after all — there’s room for debate when a particular case like this arises.
If DeReu’s truly was the honest mistake it appears to be, we hope the Columbia Falls school board shows some mercy. We’d wager DeReu, who now finds her name in newspapers across the state (including this one) and blogs around the country, has already learned the lesson that an expulsion would supposedly teach.