Here's an idea for anyone in Columbia County who works at a public school, private school, day-care center, martial arts academy, pottery class, sewing school, whatever:
How about an amnesty program?
You know, a turn-yourself-in day, allowing anyone who has failed to report child abuse, weapons on campus, rape in the hallway or other such crimes to come forward, confess their sins and receive only a smack on the head.
Those failing to come forward during the amnesty period would be prosecuted. Fair enough?
Maybe this would help flush these cases out of the woodwork. So far, we've had three public school administrators investigated and one of them indicted for failing to report suspected child molestation, as required by the law and by school policy.
Then, this past week, the cover-up started to slip from a May 5 Augusta Prep incident in which a student carried a pistol to school in his truck. Three girls sitting in the truck in the parking lot found the gun. One of the girls - can you say idiot? - pulled the trigger (twice!), firing a bullet into the windshield.
Fortunately for Prep, no one was hurt. If someone had been hurt, God forbid, the school might have called an ambulance, and the EMTs might have called the deputies, and the public might have heard about it.
But since the bullet struck only the windshield, Prep Headmaster Jack Hall was able to handle the incident by the book: He told his board of directors and one of them, an attorney, made a friendly call to District Attorney Danny Craig.
A couple of wrist-slaps later, and everyone goes home for the summer.
The law dictates, explicitly, that the principal of a school - public or private - must report weapons on campus to the cops and the DA's office. Period. Anyone running a school, or even a lawyer on the school's board of directors, should know that.
The law gives no additional layer of privacy for private schools. Unlike public schools, no one knows what private-school staffers earn, and they don't have to post test scores. But bringing a gun to school is a felony in either place, and the person bringing it has committed one.
Apparently only Prep's staff and parents would have known about the gunplay or Prep's mishandling of it had someone not sent Hall's excuse-laden letter to The News-Times three months later. Now that everyone knows about it, including the Sheriff's Office, a real investigation has begun.
District Attorney Danny Craig has been disappointing thus far, having heard about the shooting unofficially and then just letting it drop. Hopefully he'll vigorously pursue it with a grand jury, just as he did the case of Columbia County public school officials accused of failing to report allegations of child molestation.
The sheriff's office treatment hasn't sounded too promising, either. Capt. Steve Morris told a reporter that Hall's failure to call the cops "may be more of an oversight than a criminal attempt not to notify the sheriff's office."
Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a "They Meant Well" clause in the law, one that allows those breaking it to get off with an "oops." Maybe that amnesty would come in handy here.
You know, we've got a thing called zero tolerance: A kid who brings a gun to a Columbia County public school, even if it's by accident, is arrested and taken to either juvenile detention or big-people jail. Adults are supposed to know better; the law applies to them, too - doesn't it?
We've said it before in the molestation cases, and we'll say it again: If the law requiring school officials to report wrongdoing means anything, prosecutors have to hold them accountable.
It's too late for "amnesty."
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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