Texas

Young black student ran away. Call police and say he has a gun, Texas principal joked

Shanna Swearingen, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Spring, Texas
Shanna Swearingen, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Spring, Texas

For the principal of a Texas elementary school, a casual joke became a serious matter.

One special-needs student at Ponderosa Elementary School in Spring, Texas had developed a pattern of running away from classs, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The last time he ran away, on April 17, according to KPRC, Principal Shanna Swearingen joked in front of three school staffers, "We won't chase him. We will call the police and tell them he has a gun so they can come faster."

The station reported that some parents at the school are calling for Swearingen's resignation after the joke, and separately that at least one mother had already pulled her son from the school in reaction.

"I'm deciding to withdraw my son," Connie Guerrero told KPRC. "I was in shock and I was in awe for her to say a comment like that about a special-needs kids. It's not right."

The district did not list any specific disciplinary actions taken against Swearingen in its initial statement, but Spring ISD Superintendent Rodney E. Watson released his own statement Wednesday, assuring parents that "strong disciplinary action has been taken."

"As an African-American male and father, I understand the concern we are seeing around the careless and inappropriate comment made by our Ponderosa Elementary principal," Watson's statement read, in part. "As a diverse school district serving a student population that is 46 percent Hispanic and 40 percent African-American, my top priority is ensuring the dignity, respect and safety for all our students."

The special-needs student Swearingen joked about is also black, according to reports. Swearingen is white.

The district's original statement, released through spokeswoman Karen Garrison, said, in part: "While the comment was made in jest, it was inappropriate and should never have been made. The district will continue to monitor the school climate at Ponderosa to ensure that incidents like this do not occur again."

Swearingen sent an apology letter to the school's parents Tuesday. It read in part:

"Your children mean the world to me, and I'm heartbroken that my thoughtless remark has caused such disruption to the hard work underway here at Ponderosa. ... I am truly sorry for the comment I made. It does not in any way reflect the love and care I have for the students of Ponderosa."

Greg Barrett lodged the complaint during a public forum during a Katy ISD board meeting on March 19.

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