Editorial: Mace in school? Let’s revisit that

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dart — or maybe just huh? — to the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education’s action this week to allow high school students to carry mace in school.

The school board is already reconsidering its vote, according to an email received Tuesday from Chairman Josh Wagner. “Apparently the board, as well as the system, may put itself in a vulnerable position by making the policy change regarding mace and pepper spray,” Wagner said. Revisiting the issue is a good idea for reasons of both liability and practicality. The idea of teenagers roaming the halls with mace in their pockets sounds more like the makings of mischief and mayhem than increased security.

The board voted unanimously Monday (with member Richard Miller absent) to remove defensive sprays from a systemwide policy about weapons on campus. They voted 5-1 then to amend another policy to specify that high school students would be allowed to have mace and shaving razors.

The issue initially came up at an earlier meeting as the board was reviewing all the system’s policies. One board member mentioned wanting to allow pepper spray if it were kept in a locked vehicle, because a lot of female students carry it for defense, and he didn’t want them to be punished for having it in their cars.

Monday’s discussion took a new direction, toward students being allowed to carry the spray campuswide. As board member Susan Cox said, it can be a long walk from the football stadium to the car. But board members’ biggest concern was for students who have a pepper spray cannister on a key chain or in a purse and simply forget to leave it in their cars. Board members felt students should not get in trouble for that. Fair enough. But that consideration may be outweighed by potential risk. The sprays are designed for self-defense, but pranksters might dream up other uses. So might someone bent on resisting authority.

Leave it to board member Chuck Hughes to look at the issue from a different angle, this time bringing up HB2, the controversial state law about transgender individuals’ bathroom use.  Mace might come in handy in the women’s bathroom, he said, “not knowing who may come in.” Actually, LGBT people — often targeted by bullies — might have more reason to carry pepper spray than most students.

Before the school board revisits the mace issue again, attorney Ken Soo should make sure board members have all the information they need to make an informed decision. “I cannot speak for the board,” Wagner said in his email. “However, I feel certain if these concerns had been expressed in the meeting, some board members, including myself, would certainly have looked at the situation differently. Our intent was to give consistency across the board between our staff and student policies.”