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Texas superintendent to resign after student found his gun in bathroom

Rising Star Elementary School in Rising Star, Tex. (Google Maps)
6 min

A Texas school board is slated on Thursday to accept the resignation of its superintendent after a third-grader found his gun in a bathroom stall in January.

Robby Stuteville, superintendent of Rising Star Independent School District, was one of two district employees who started carrying a handgun on campus at the beginning of the school year in accordance with state law.

Although no one was hurt in the incident last month at Rising Star Elementary School, Stuteville submitted his resignation Monday after parents raised concerns at a board meeting last week, with many saying they were upset they weren’t immediately notified about the incident, learning of it only weeks later.

Beyond the Rising Star community, the mishap has drawn scrutiny across the United States about campus safety measures as the country faces a growing number of gun violence incidents on school grounds. Last month, a 6-year-old shot his teacher at a Virginia elementary school.

Years before the May 24 massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Uvalde elementary school — the deadliest shooting ever at a Texas public school — state lawmakers passed legislation in 2013 permitting school officials to carry guns on campus, a controversial practice few other states allow.

In an interview with local TV stations KTAB and KRBC last week, Stuteville acknowledged that firearms are “a considerable danger” and urged parents to “school their child to be on the lookout for any unusual placement of a weapon or anything out of place.”

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Stuteville did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Rising Star police opened an investigation into the incident last week, KTAB and KRBC reported. The department did not respond to a request for comment.

In mid-January, a third-grade student at Rising Star Elementary went to a bathroom and saw a gun sitting in one of the stalls, said Monty Jones, Rising Star’s secondary principal. The student ran back to tell his teacher, Jones said.

Then, another third-grader went to look inside the stall, Jones said. Right after, both students walked across the hall to Stuteville’s office to tell him that a handgun was in the bathroom, he added.

According to Jones, the students told Stuteville that they hadn’t touched the gun — they’d just seen it and came to report it. The handgun had been left unattended for about 15 minutes, Stuteville told KTAB and KRBC.

“I can’t say what was going through his mind, but I know him,” Jones said. “I’ve known him for years, and this is a horrible mistake. And he feels gutted by it.”

Starting in August, Jones and Stuteville both began carrying firearms after receiving training under Texas’s “guardian plan,” which allows school boards to authorize staff members to carry guns on campus.

Texas began its school marshal program in 2013, allowing boards to appoint district employees to carry or possess a handgun on campus. The program requires licensing and certification from the state Commission on Law Enforcement.

The “guardian plan” provision, however, gives school boards the discretion to authorize district employees to carry and to determine the training required. Guardians, as they are known, are not reported to any state agencies, according to Gretchen Grigsby, director of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

The Rising Star school board decided in the summer that Jones and Stuteville would become guardians for its split campus — Jones for the building with grades six to 12 and Stuteville for the other, with pre-K through fifth grade. About 180 students attend classes on the campus.

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Participating in the guardian plan was a cautionary measure the board implemented after heightened safety concerns following the Uvalde school shooting, Jones said.

He and Stuteville completed training during the summer and, once school started, conducted training with teachers and students about their plan to carry and other measures, such as lockdown drills.

“We ensured that number one, our students knew what we were doing,” Jones said. “Number two, it’s for their safety.”

Rising Star parents were also made aware of the administrators being guardians through “word of mouth” in the rural district, Jones said. At the time, he added, “no one said anything negative” to him about the officials carrying.

“Matter of fact, they were happy,” Jones said. “They felt safe that we did.”

The day after the incident, Stuteville emailed the school board about it, Jones said. The parents of the children who saw the gun were also notified, Jones said.

“They knew the protocols, and they knew it shouldn’t have been laying around,” Jones said of the third-grade students. “So they went and did what great kids do — turned it in, and rest is history.”

But most Rising Star parents weren’t aware of it until this month, a point of tension during a special board meeting.

During the Feb. 16 meeting, more than 20 community members stood around the room awaiting their turn to speak, with several reading from notes written on paper or typed on their phones. Stuteville attended the meeting.

“Thank the Lord nothing did happen,” one parent said. “… How can you let a gun go missing, or not missing but like misplaced, for 15 minutes and not notice it? I just, I don’t understand that.”

Another attendee added: “I don’t fault what happened. People make mistakes, but I’m just concerned about the parents not being told, like, what’s going on.”

The sentiment was echoed by a majority of the speakers. Though many noted that they kept guns in their homes, they advocated for more transparency from Rising Star administrators.

One speaker said they’d heard about the incident from a friend and their first reaction was: “There’s no way.”

“It’s not so much what you do whenever you mess up,” they said. “It’s what you do following that.”

Jones told The Washington Post that administrators are “working to get better” at communicating with parents.

“We want to be able to tell our parents, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem at school, we’re handling it. We’ll let you know as soon as possible how things are going — good, bad or otherwise. Just trust us to take care of business,’” he said. “I’m not sure they do that right now because we weren’t transparent with them, and I can understand that.”

The board is set to discuss and accept Stuteville’s resignation Thursday afternoon, according to its meeting agenda. Jones is expected to be appointed the acting superintendent.

Jones said he plans to continue carrying his handgun on campus daily.

“Till the board says otherwise, yes.”