The Dawson County Board of Education is reviewing new policies that will allow employees to evaluate possession of what was once classified as "weapons" on a case-by-case basis.
The board voted unanimously during a special called meeting on Friday to update the definition of "weapon" in the student handbooks.
"Firearms and dangerous weapons will continue to be prohibited in school safety zones with the possession of either still considered a felony and involving law enforcement," said Dawson County School Superintendent Damon Gibbs. "But now, we have split the classifications of guns, which include firearms, grenade launchers and the like, and hazardous weapons, which include knives, blackjacks or any other fighting object."
According to Gibbs, under the proposed changes, the board and principals would be allowed to use more discretion with these infractions
"In the past, if you were in possession of any weapon, you had to be expelled for a minimum of 12 months under the [state's] zero tolerance policy," Gibbs said. "This new law has helped us relax that a little bit and allowed us to use some common sense to look at the situation."
In 2014, the general assembly passed two weapons bills, one of which carried over from the 2013 legislative session that allow boards to designate employees to carry guns.
"We're not touching that law. We're not going to have people carrying weapons because the law states that if a school system designates a weapon carrier, the system has to train that person. We're not going to have employees carrying weapons on our campuses."
Currently, the only personnel carrying weapons on school campuses are sheriff's deputies serving as school resource officers.
Also going into effect on July 1, House Bill 60, also known as the "Safe Carry Protection Act" or the "Guns Everywhere Bill," revised numerous code sections by relaxing restrictions against owners holding licenses to carry guns in many public places.
Under Georgia code, weapons are prohibited in a "school safety zone," meaning in or on any property owned by or leased to the board of education.
House Bill 826, which was passed this year, attempted to significantly advice Georgia codes by deleting its traditional definition of "weapon."
"These updates are to get us in line with the changes to the new state laws," Gibbs said. "Our weapons policy lined up with the former weapons law and when it changed July 1, it was recommended by legal counsel that all school systems in the state review their weapons policies and make appropriate adjustments."
According to Lisa Perry, assistant superintendent of personnel and support services, this new policy will allow differing degrees of punishment based on the severity of the intent of possession.
"This new policy essential lends us more flexibility and lets us make good decisions," she said "The new policy places hazardous objects under both level three and four discipline action, based on whether or not the possession was malicious, mischievous or accidental."
According to the school guidelines, level three offenses are "serious acts of misconduct including, but not limited to, repeated misbehavior that is similar in nature, serious disruptions of the school environment, threats to health, safety, or property and other acts of serious misconduct."
These offenses are generally punished with up to three days of suspension and up to 15 days loss of other privileges, such as driving.
Level four offenses are "so serious that they may require use of outside agencies and/or law enforcement. Such acts may result in criminal penalties being imposed." These acts are generally met with the highest punishment, such as a one-year suspension from school activities.
"We will not change the way we deal with anything that falls under the category of weapon. The law now allows us to relax that one-year suspension, but we have a firm stance on weapons on our campus," Gibbs said. "For hazardous objects, it gives us greater leeway to deal with in our code of conduct."
While the code of conduct for the schools was passed during the July 24 meeting, the weapon policy is still waiting for approval by the board and is expected to be presented during the Aug. 5 work session.