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Group calls for Tioga superintendent to resign immediately

by Mike McFeely

A gun-control group has called for the immediate resignation of Tioga, N.D., school superintendent D'Wayne Johnston, who carried a concealed handgun into school earlier this month after a student made a threat.

Johnston resigned after the Tioga school board reprimanded him because carrying a gun into a school is against state law and the school district's policy. Johnson's resignation is effective at the end of the school year.

But Susan Beehler, North Dakota chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says the Tioga board should make Johnston's resignation immediate.

"This is exactly why we don't want firearms in schools -- teachers arming themselves against students," Beehler said in a press release. "What did Mr. Johnston intend to do with the gun? Wave it around in a threatening manner? Shoot the student if provoked? Hot tempers and fear can lead to shootings that would not otherwise happen if there were no gun present. This has been proven time and time again, with disastrous results."

Johnston told the Associated Press he brought the weapon to Tioga High School on Oct. 2 because a boy made a threat a day earlier that resulted in the student's expulsion. Johnston would not go into detail about the threat, but said the student in question had previous discipline problems.

"It led me to believe that a much heightened level of student and staff safety as well as my own was necessary," Johnston told the AP.

Tioga school board president Mark Schmidt said the board is allowing Johnston to stay until the end of the school year because, "Right now, I do not believe he is a danger to anyone and he admitted the wrongdoing."

I talked with Johnson at length this week and he said he hopes the discussion can pivot from this specific story into a broader discussion of school safety in western North Dakota, which has been overrun with new residents the last three years because of the oil boom. Tioga's enrollment has doubled in the past three years.

Schmidt wouldn't identify the student who made the threat, nor whether the student was a new resident of Tioga.

But other sources told me the student was, indeed, a child in a family that had recently moved to the city. 

"What I did was not an appropriate way to deal with school safety," Johnston told the Associated Press.

Johnston told the AP he hopes this situation will help everyone have a better understanding of where students are coming from and how community resources can help everyone, "so no one person has to feel like they have to take it on themselves."

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)