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School district gets an F

Medford School District officials continue to fail Community Relations 101, judging by the district's decision not to notify parents after a student brought a loaded gun to Central Medford High School last week. It would seem some remedial instruction is in order.

Last Wednesday, 18-year-old Jacob Semion Davis brought a loaded .38-caliber revolver to school and showed it to fellow students in an attempt to sell it, according to police.

A student reported Davis to school officials, who notified police. Officers promptly arrested Davis, who faces felony and misdemeanor charges of firearm possession and could spend six years in prison.

Medford School Superintendent Phil Long notified School Board members and officials of the Southern Oregon Education Service District that day, but not parents. He said parents would have been notified if there had been "an imminent threat" to student safety or if the school had been locked down.

"In this case, we did not have to do that," Long said.

That's good, but he still should have notified parents.

School Board Chairman Eric Dziura initially told a Mail Tribune reporter he thought the incident should have been reported to parents and to the community. On Wednesday, he told the Mail Tribune he had changed his mind after discussing the matter with Long.

Dziura said the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act forbids the district from revealing information that could personally identify a student, and that the district could face severe penalties for violating the act.

Under most circumstances, a desire to protect student privacy is commendable. In this case, it's nothing more than a smoke screen.

FERPA is designed to protect student educational records. The 1974 law specifically says investigative reports and other records created by "law enforcement units" — even ones employed by the school district — are not educational records and may be released.

In any case, once Davis had been arrested — shortly after 1:30 p.m. last Wednesday — his name became public record. Any expectation of privacy was gone.

Long's judgment that this incident posed no "imminent threat" is a convenient excuse for keeping parents in the dark, but nothing more. Davis apparently voiced no threats and showed no intent to fire the gun. But most parents we know would say a loaded gun in the possession of a teenager with the poor judgment to bring it to school constitutes a threat.

Parents of disabled students enrolled in the district's STEPS programs were upset last year when they learned their children would remain at Central rather than attending the new South Medford High School. They have even more reason to be angry now, which may have contributed to Long's decision not to report the incident publicly.

If so, all he accomplished was to make an unfortunate situation worse. Had he immediately told the community that the incident had occurred and been handled quickly, he might have been praised for the efficient response.

As it is, he demonstrated that he still doesn't get it when it comes to being open with the public.