A teacher who is also a reserve police officer trained in firearm use “accidentally” discharged a gun Tuesday at Seaside High School in Monterey County, California, during a class devoted to public safety, school officials said in a statement. A male student was reported to have sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
The weapon, which was not described, was pointed at the ceiling, according to a statement from the school, and debris fell from the ceiling.
Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen told the Monterey County Weekly that a male student was “struck in the neck by ‘debris or fragmentation’ from something overhead.” Pridgen said whatever hit the student was not a bullet.
However, the student’s father, Fermin Gonzales, told KSBW 8 that it was his understanding that fragments from the bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and lodged in the boy’s neck. The father said the teacher told the class before pointing the gun at the ceiling that he was doing so to make sure his gun wasn’t loaded, something that can be determined visually.
“It’s the craziest thing,” Gonzales told the station. “It could have been very bad.”
Gonzales said he learned about the incident when his 17-year-old son came home with blood on his shirt and bullet fragments in his neck.
The boy’s mother, Crystal Gonzales, told the Associated Press Wednesday that the incident took place about 10:30 in the morning that the class continued after the gun discharge, even though her son was injured. She said she did not hear about it until her son called her hours later and went to a relative’s home.
“I’m still really upset no one called a nurse or a paramedic to come check on the students,” she told the AP. “They just sat there until the bell rang.”
“He’s shaken up, but he’s going to be OK. I’m just pretty upset that no one told us anything and we had to call the police ourselves to report it,” the father told the TV station.
The teen was treated at a hospital where the boy’s parents took him.
A spokeswoman at the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District told The Washington Post Wednesday that they would not comment further until an investigation was completed.
The teacher was identified by police as Dennis Alexander, who teaches math as well as a course in the administration of justice. Alexander is a reserve police officer for Sand City and a Seaside city councilman. He did not respond to emails from The Washington Post seeking comment. He has reportedly apologized for the incident.
The Monterey County Weekly, quoting Sand City Police Chief Brian Ferrante, reported that Alexander had his last gun safety training less than a year ago. “I have concerns about why he was displaying a loaded firearm in a classroom,” Ferrante told KSBW. “We will be looking into that.”
Exactly why the teacher was displaying the weapon at all was not entirely clear. Police said he was “providing instruction related to public safety.”
The father told KSBW that the teacher was preparing to use the gun to show how to disarm someone.
Daniel “PK” Diffenbaugh, superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, told the Weekly on Tuesday that the incident occurred during the administration of justice class, a career track course offered by the school. “Clearly, we will revisit this incident to ensure that something like this would never happen again.”
Diffenbaugh noted that state law and school policy forbids carrying firearms on campus without authorization. Alexander, he said, was not authorized.
“I think a lot of questions are on parents’ minds are, why a teacher would be pointing a loaded firearm at the ceiling in front of students,” Diffenbaugh told KSBW. “Clearly, in this incident, protocols were not followed.”
The teacher has been placed on administrative leave while an investigation takes place, according to the school. The Sand City Police Department also placed Alexander on administrative leave.
The incident comes amid a national debate on how to protect students from mass shootings like the one that took the lives of 17 people in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. Among the proposals advanced is training and arming teachers, an approach favored by President Trump, among others, but opposed by a majority of the teachers in the National Education Association, including many who said in an NEA survey that it would make them feel less safe.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Fred Barbash