Superintendent Sale calls for partnership after East Elementary lockdown

by May 7, 2022NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments



One Feather Staff


Thursday morning (May 6) came as a shock to the system for teachers and students at Swain County East Elementary School.

Minutes before school was set to begin, a student warned a teacher at Swain East that they thought a fellow student was concealing a handgun in their bookbag. The teacher looked inside the bag and saw what she believed to be a firearm tucked underneath a stuffed animal. She quickly contacted Swain East Principal Amanda Sutton, who immediately put the school in lockdown.

After further investigation by a School Resource Officer (SRO), this object was found to be an black airsoft gun.

“It was an hour of extreme concern on a lot of people’s parts. Particularly at East Elementary and at the Central Office, because we’re trying to manage all of these events and make sure that we have the right information,” said Mark Sale, superintendent of Swain County Schools.

“It also creates a moment of extreme concern at all of our schools. Because our process is if we lock down one, we place all other campuses on a perimeter lockdown. Which means the students have to travel between classes outside with extreme caution and under extreme supervision. So, it puts them under a little bit of stress too. Because they don’t know what’s going on.”

The perimeter lockdown of the other schools was over in less than an hour, and the lockdown of East Elementary was lifted by 9:30 Thursday morning.

Sale said that the school will need its students and parents to think and be safe every day to ensure scares like this don’t happen in the future.

“We need partners. We want to partner with the community for safety in all areas. Today just brought to light again the fact that an airsoft gun, which doesn’t necessarily provide an opportunity for lethal damage, can look so much like a true gun. The outcome can be pretty severe. Because if a law enforcement officer in the right type of events and circumstances, sees someone with an airsoft gun, they have to make an instant decision about how they’re going to respond. They could be a lethal event. That’s what’s represented to me by our local Resource Officers,” said Sale.

He said a key lesson that can be taken from this event is how easily something like this can happen. Sale said that the school will do what it can to continue to monitor for instances like this, but that parents need to be diligent in their children’s lives.

“Please know where all of your weapon-like objects are. Make sure that students aren’t bringing them to school. Because an airsoft gun can be so quickly mistaken for a loaded weapon. That terrifies me,” Sale asked of Swain’s parents.

“Parents, please pay attention to social media. I know for a fact that back in March, a TikTok challenge was for students to bring a weapon-like object to school and see if they can get away with it. Social media has great potential to be a positive in lives. But it also has great potential to be a tempting opportunity for all of us. Social media is critical.”

This event came just three days after Cherokee Centrals Schools (CCS) had a shut down. On Monday, CCS announced that ‘a serious threat has been made against the safety of our students and staff’. This resulted in the school’s closure for Monday, May 2. CCS returned to class the following day.

Yona Wade, CCS director of community affairs, offered the following statement:

“Cherokee Central Schools were made aware of a threat made over the weekend via social media to harm students.  It was determined that the safest course of action would be to close school on Monday, May 2.  In cooperation with the CIPD, our SRO’s and the CCS Administration, it was determined that with the additional police presence and the use of metal detectors for grades 6-12 that we could safely open our campus to students on Tuesday, May 3.  We will continue the use of metal detectors until further notice or until we confidently feel the threat to our campus has been mitigated.  Because this incident involves students at Cherokee Central Schools and an active investigation is underway, we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Superintendent Sale offered the same sentiment regarding specifics of the situation at Swain East. He said that he would make no statement that could implicate students or families at Swain County Schools. Unlike CCS, Swain County Schools have not and have no current plan to use metal detectors at their schools.

What Sale did want heard was how proud he was of the staff at all his schools and administration, especially those at Swain East.

“I am so thankful for the professionalism and the care that our teachers and our administrative staff and support staff use every day for our students. Want to talk about stressful? Walk through a morning like they had today and then turnaround, on a dime, and then get back into regular life. I walked through, and they’ve done it. They handled it and when it was over, they get back to work and they’re loving their kids and they’re making academic progress. That’s phenomenal.”