COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System superintendent is vowing to punish students who make school environments unsafe.
"I find it intolerable for schools and classrooms to be anything but safe," Gary Mathews said on Thursday during his biannual community leadership breakfast at the Newton County Board of Education building. "There has to be a safe learning environment ... for learning to take place."
He referenced a recent incident in which the Newton County Sheriff's Office detained a 13-year-old Cousins Middle School student and charged him with weapons in a school safety zone, a felony, after finding him in possession of a homemade shank with a 3- -inch blade.
Mathews said he doesn't think this incident was a result of the school environment, but his home environment. The NCSO said the student said the item was something he made at home and nobody at school was bullying him.
Still, Mathews said students must feel safe at school.
"It's not a negotiable thing," he said.
He said students who find themselves in these situations will be dealt with sternly.
"I'm a pretty tough hombre," Mathews said.
He added that plenty of Newton County students are award winners and high achievers.
"We have students who really excel," he said. "We have kids who go to the best colleges in the world."
Mathews said it's the role and responsibility of schools to identify students' talents and to develop them. And with a 50 to 70 percent economically disadvantaged system, he said that might be more difficult to do, according to research.
"We have a challenge," he said.
Students in possessions of weapons can be referred to law enforcement, the juvenile justice program or a disciplinary hearing and parents will be contacted, according to the Newton County BOE policy.