A knife apparently isn’t always a knife.
After students at a local elementary school were disciplined for bringing knives on campus, the I-Team discovered school officials used watered-down, generic language when they reported the incidents to the State of Texas.
“Somebody is covering up something,” said Gabby Gutierrez, a mother of two at Patterson Elementary in Southeast Houston.
The I-Team obtained photos and video taken by school employees, which show several knives, blades, replica guns, even condoms, tucked away in a file room at the school.
One of the knives has a serrated edge, something Gutierrez called alarming.
“A violent weapon that could really harm or kill somebody,” Gutierrez said.
“You would scream for help, you would run,” she added.
But the contraband was not confiscated from hardened criminals, but rather from kids as young as seven. Several employees told the I-Team that principal Jeannie Castano tried to keep the weapons under wraps.
"If she would have reported them like it should, it would have looked bad on the school,” said one employee who asked not to be identified.
I-Team: “Do parents have any idea this is going on?”
Employee: “No. Parents do not know and parents do need to know.”
But the I-Team discovered they would probably never know by checking Patterson's state record. Schools are supposed to report to the Texas Education Agency when they discipline a student for having an illegal knife, or even a non-illegal knife with a blade less than 5 and 1/2 inches long.
HISD confirms Patterson officials did discipline the students. But when the school reported the incidents, it never mentioned weapons of any kind. Instead, the school labeled them as minor “code of conduct violations,” the same as things like chewing gum or breaking the dress code.
“Shame on you,” said Diana Diaz.
Diaz taught fourth grade at Patterson Elementary.
I-Team: "If nobody knows about it, doesn’t exist?”
And when that happens, Diaz said the potential for something bad to happen is real.
"What makes me think is 'what's going to be next.’” Diaz said.
“It's endangering the lives of 950 students," she said.
Diaz and others we spoke with squarely put the blame on Principal Castano, who declined to be interviewed. When the I-Team tried to approach her on campus, HISD police showed up. Through a spokesperson, Castano said she stands behind the following statement from the school district:
The safety of our students —at Patterson Elementary School and all other schools throughout the district — is always our absolute top priority. When a student brings an item to school that could potentially be considered dangerous, we take that very seriously. Though none of the items photographed are considered by police to be illegal, they still were considered contraband, as outlined in our Student Code of Conduct. As such, they were all confiscated and placed in a secure location, and the students who brought them to school were disciplined accordingly. All disciplinary offenses were reported to the state, as required by the Texas Education Code. Naturally, we will review this report thoroughly and make adjustments to our practices at Patterson should we find that they are needed.
"What's going to be enough?” said Gutierrez.
For her, any change can't come soon enough..
"How long does this pattern have to occur, a bad pattern have to occur, for something to happen, to intervene, and correct it and stop it,” Gutierrez said.
To be clear, no one is alleging Principal Castano broke any criminal laws regarding this issue. Even though she didn't report the weapons to police, HISD said she didn't have to because all the knives were smaller than what's considered illegal.
Still, many parents we spoke to maintain that no matter what the size, they want to be in the know when weapons of any kind come into their children's school.