Since the Asbury Park High School incident when a student brought a loaded gun into the school — past a metal detector and a security staff that was, according to April 29th School Board minutes, gifted $250,000 for “increased costs of security” (I was told the money was spent on “Gestapo-like uniforms”) — I’ve received more information from people familiar with the matter.
We already know how students sneak weapons into the high school. (See this post for details.) What we didn’t know was how Asbury Park High School Principal Kathy Baumgardner reacted after learning of the situation and how the Central Office Administration, specifically Superintendent Sancha Gray, responded.
According to sources, after school on the day of the incident two or three staff members happened to look at Snapchat, the multimedia messaging app, and saw a video of three Asbury Park High School students in a bathroom; one of them took a gun out of a black backpack and showed it to the other two boys.
Baumgardner was informed the following morning and immediately asked the head of high school security (not district Security Manager Louis Jordan, whose history is here) to search security cameras for these students, as it wasn’t clear from the Snapchat message if the bathroom was in the high school or elsewhere. Right after that she checked to see if the three boys in the video were present in school.
All three had been marked absent.
While classes were changing at 9:30, a teacher contacted Baumgardner on a radio or walkie-talkie (not sure) and told her that there were four boys in the gym who weren’t supposed to be there. Baumgardner, with another teacher and/or a security guard, proceeded to the gym and, as soon as they got there two boys ran out. The other two remained and were told to go to class. There was no sign of a black backpack. Baumgardner instructed security guards to search the gym while she went back to her office to begin paperwork. The security guards found the black backpack, informed Baumgardner, and someone called the School Resource Officer, who ascertained that the bag contained a real loaded gun.
While several people were in Baumgardner’s office, the boy holding the gun in the Snapchat message came in and said, “I want my backpack back.” A source reported that Baumgardner said, “you’re bringing guns into my building?” The boy said he was being recruited for a gang and someone must have put the gun in there. The police were called, as were the parents of all three boys, who gave permission for questioning.
At that point Baumgardner called Superintendent Sancha Gray. She was unable to reach her and sent her a text informing her of the situation. She also filled out an incident report and sent it to Gray.
Baumgardner heard nothing from Gray but Roberta Beauford, head of HR, went over to the high school. Baumgardner, who had scheduled a faculty meeting that afternoon, said she was going to tell the staff what had happened but Beauford told her “the only person who has that authority is Sancha.” (In fact, district policy says such decisions are made “at the principal’s discretion.”)
Meanwhile, Gray never responded to Baumgardner’s messages.
The following week Baumgardner got a call telling her not to return to work: She was suspended with pay “pending an investigation,” according to the district lawyer, with no reason given. (Someone else told me that Gray “was under a lot of pressure” and that’s why she suspended the principal.) The following day Baumgardner called her union representative at New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, who will plead her case with the School Board.
Meanwhile, after four years of current NJ Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet’s leadership of the district (2014-2018) and two years of his hand-picked successor, Sancha Gray, academic success for students stuck in Asbury Park High School remains elusive. Below are two charts from the DOE that show close to a six-point drop over the last three years in student proficiency in English Language Arts and flat math scores. In other words, only one is six students at Asbury Park High School is proficient in reading and one in seven is proficient in math. All this for $42,382 per student per year. You’d think we could at least keep them safe.