An Ohio first-grader who found his grandmother’s loaded gun at school this spring pointed it at another student, according to a newly released email.
On March 8, the child found the 9 mm handgun that his grandmother, Vicky Nelson, who is the district’s transportation director, carried at Highland Local Schools. Nelson was allowed to carry the weapon as part of the district’s concealed-carry plan adopted last year to arm administrators and select staff members to protect students from potential gun violence.
Last Thursday, school officials said Nelson had briefly gone to the restroom, leaving the gun hidden behind her desk. They said they didn’t know how long the child had access to it or whether he pointed it at anyone.
“I’m assuming that the child picked up the gun from behind the desk and had been holding it,” Superintendent Dan Freund said then.
But an email from the assistant transportation director — the parent of the classmate who was with the boy March 8 — told a different story.
“He pointed it at her and said ‘Put your hands behind your back your [sic] arrested,’ ” Christine Scaffidi, the assistant transportation director, told Freund in the email.
Scaffidi also said that Nelson, her boss, had not only gone to the bathroom but also driven to the nearby high school — leaving the gun unattended for up to 30 minutes. The parents had allowed their children, then both students at Highland Elementary School, to wait in the office before school started.
On Monday, Freund acknowledged the Scaffidi emails and said their existence had simply slipped his mind when The Columbus Dispatch repeatedly asked him last week about details or documents related to the incident.
“It wasn’t an attempt to lie or cover up anything,” said Freund, a teacher and administrator for 50 years. “I’m 70 years old. I forgot about (the emails). Do I get it right all the time? No. Maybe the school board wants to fire me.”
School board president Wayne Hinkle, who has long been opposed to the district’s concealed-carry policy, said he was unaware of the emails.
School boards must, by state law, adopt safety plans and policies in a public session. But they are not required to reveal details about firearm possession among school employees.
Security plans, which often are shared with local police and include names of school participants in the concealed-carry program, are exempt from public review, said Van Keating, staff attorney for the Ohio School Boards Association.
Nelson was immediately removed from the concealed-carry program. But Scaffidi wondered why she hadn’t been punished nor the community made aware.
“I don’t think the whole story about her (Nelson’s) grandson picking it up and pointing it at my daughter came out,” she told Freund in an email.
“I would like to know why this is being brushed under the rug!! A gun was left on a desk by someone that is in charge of the safety and well-being of students. It was picked up by her grandson and pointed at my child. Not one single person in this district has reached out to me. No school board members, either.”
Nelson was eventually suspended for three days without pay in early April.
In a separate written statement to Freund, Nelson apologized and described her embarrassment and regret.
“It’s hard to admit when you make such a mistake of this magnitude,” Nelson wrote. She said her grandson told her he hadn’t pointed the gun at anyone.
Morrow County Sheriff John L. Hinton said he would have investigated had he known about the incident.
Freund said he forwarded both written statements to a deputy sheriff and never heard back from anyone. He said Scaffidi urged her daughter not to tell anyone and asked Freund not to interview her daughter. Freund said he agreed, not wanting to “traumatize them.”
Given the chance, Freund said, he’d do things differently now.
“Things are raw around here right now ... This has been a rough one for a lot of us,” Freund said of the incident resurfacing shortly before the start of school. “I’m at the end of the road career-wise.”
There could be criminal charges, including endangering children or dereliction of duty, against someone leaving a gun unattended, said Marion police Maj. Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order Police. However, he noted most of the involved sections of the law “require something bad to happen first.”