Handgun belonged to staff cleared for in-school concealed carry

SPARTA — As reports of school shootings have become more prevalent, some school districts have chosen to allow certain personnel to carry concealed weapons on campus.

At a meeting held August 15, 2018, the Highland Local Schools’ board of education passed a resolution authorizing “approved volunteers” to possess firearms “for the welfare and safety of the students.”

About seven months later, two students had access to a firearm that was left unaccompanied by a member of the district’s safety team.

Assistant superintendent Nathan Huffman confirmed that Vicky Nelson, the district’s transportation director, left her weapon unattended in her office at the district bus garage while she went to the restroom. Her grandson and another child were left in the office. No one witnessed the children handling the gun, but minutes later, an adult entered the office and found that it had been taken out and was on the desk.

“It was automatically assumed, right then and there, that the kids had touched it,” said Huffman.

Huffman told the News that at the time, Nelson was authorized to carry a firearm on school grounds.

“The fact that it wasn’t on her was a violation of district safety policy,” he said.

The incident occurred in March and did not come to light until a Facebook post prompted an article in the Columbus Dispatch.

Superintendent Dan Freund told the News that he informed the district’s safety trainer Greg Perry about the incident shortly after it happened.

Perry confirmed that he learned about the incident while conducting some routine, ongoing training with the safety team.

“(Freund) told us, ‘This person’s no longer on the team and here’s why,’” he said. “When I became aware of it, I told (Morrow County) Sheriff (John) Hinton.”

Hinton told the News that there was not an official report filed and that no further action was taken by the sheriff’s department.

“I was told by one of the guys…that an incident had happened at Highland. All I remember is that someone left a gun on a desk or in a desk,” he said. “I don’t remember anything about two kids being involved in it.”

Hinton said he did not recall being told that there were children in the room.

“It was determined that this was an internal issue, that we have policy to handle this and based on how we handled it, they didn’t have anything that they needed to do,” said Huffman.

Nelson was suspended for three days without pay and removed from the district safety team.

Huffman said that Nelson was extremely remorseful and even offered to resign from her position.

“She is a phenomenal, phenomenal person and probably the best at her job in transportation,” he said. “She was devastated that she made this mistake.”

Nelson is still employed by the district but is not on the safety team. The safety team is still in place and receives regular training in collaboration with the Morrow County Sheriff’s Department. Gun safety remains a paramount component of the training.

“Something like this can never happen again,” said Huffman. “It never should have happened in the first place.”

Huffman declined to name the individuals employed by the school who are authorized to handle weapons, but stated that there are not armed teachers in the building.

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Katie Ellington: 740-397-5333 or katie@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @kt_ellington