Board of Education backs out of pepper spray policy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 24, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — It took the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education just two weeks to reverse its stance on students carrying pepper spray.

At the board’s May 9 work session, the board voted unanimously to amend policy 5027 and voted 5-1 to amend policy 4333 to allow high school students to carry defensive sprays. At Monday evening’s business meeting, the board voted to repeal the changes.

Board Chairman Josh Wagner said that pepper spray was not mentioned in one of the policies, which listed weapons prohibited on campus.

“The assumption was that there are some students that are definitely in possession of it. And we haven’t had any issues with it,” he said

Wagner said that pepper spray on campus is not prohibited by state law. Board members passed the amendment, expressing concern for students walking to their cars from evening events or forgetting to remove canisters from purses or keychains.

“We, of course, were not condoning students running rampant in high schools and spraying each other with pepper spray,” Wagner said.

But the decision gained national attention, and the board received an influx of calls from the community, alerting them to potential problems. Wagner said allergies or other reactions to pepper spray were a concern. The amended policy could also pose liability and insurance concerns, which neither school system staff nor the board’s lawyer mentioned at the May 9 meeting.

“So I think the board made the assumption that a lot of these things had been covered,” he said.

If the issues were brought up at the first review of the policies, Wagner said, he thought the board would not have approved the amendment. Unfortunately, meetings provide limited time for analysis and discussion.

“You have as much conversation as you can and you try to think rationally and logically, but you, of course, can’t view everything through every prism,” he said.

The board backed off the policy quickly — by the next morning, the issue was tabled for the May business meeting. Wagner said in that time, the system analyzed the issue, and talked to law enforcement and other experts.

At Monday’s business meeting, the previous decision was overturned without any discussion. Board member Dean Hunter made a motion to remove the amended language from both policies. Board member Travis Allen seconded, and the motion passed unanimously.

“We realized that we probably should have left that alone,” Wagner said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.