PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County school leaders have a warning for parents ahead of the new school year: don't send your kids to school with a taser, even to protect themselves off-campus.
It's a problem that surfaced last school year, leading to several students getting expelled after they and their families didn't realize the weapon could get children kicked out of school.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
During Wednesday's Palm Beach County School Board meeting, board member Dr. Debra Robinson suggested creating a "Safe Harbor" policy that would allow students to turn in their weapons without severe consequences.
Robinson also wants police to pay close attention to children walking to and from school and their bus stops.
"We don't want our kids not feeling safe," Chief Sarah Mooney of the School District of Palm Beach County Police Department said at a back-to-school news conference on Monday.
WATCH: Chief Sarah Mooney discusses weapons on school campuses
A topic so serious, it's one of the first messages Mooney addressed before the new school year starts on Aug. 10.
"Last year, there were several incidents where parents were giving their kids something to defend themselves, whether it was on the way to school or on the way home from school," Mooney said.
Last school year saw a big increase in weapons on Palm Beach County school campuses, which led to students getting expelled.
Records from the School District of Palm Beach County showed 12 zero tolerance weapons cases during the 2018/19 school year, 20 weapons on campuses during the 2019/20 school year, and 85 reports during the 2021/22 school year through April 25.
According to the school district's Zero Tolerance Policy, students are prohibited from bringing firearms, along with a "dirk, knife, metallic knuckles, slingshot, billie, tear gas gun, chemical weapon or device, or other deadly weapons," as well as "electric weapons or devices (Taser/Stun Gun)" onto school campuses.
"One of the particular weapons we recovered a couple of last year were tasers," Mooney said. "Tasers are considered weapons. Guns, knives, zero tolerance on the campuses."
But many parents and students don't realize that.
According to a school district police report from Nov. 12, 2021, a student had a taser that accidentally went off on a school bus. In the report, she said she was "not planning to hurt anyone... has a long walk home," and the taser was "for self defense."
"We don't want students who otherwise are not on the radar for doing anything wrong getting into a situation where they feel they have to bring a weapon to defend themselves," Mooney said.
School board Chairman Frank Barbieri addressed the topic at an April 20 board meeting after expelling that student for having a taser.
"The parents basically cried during the expulsion hearing because they bought tasers for their children," Barbieri said.
"Whenever we see weapons on campus, that’s a red flag for all of us," said Dr. Samantha Saltz, a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist in Palm Beach County. "The truth of the matter is, violence has been an issue, not only on school campuses, but at large."
Saltz said that with more attention on violence and mass shootings in our country, some children are scared and resorting to carrying weapons. But it's important they understand there are better ways to stay safe.
"Violence is not a way to communicate anger or fear or anxiety, and communication is key," Saltz said. "Children can go to adults, teachers, counselors, mental health professionals to express any kind of emotions they are feeling. But violence, weapons, are not allowed. Period."
Mooney on Monday also reiterated that if your child does not feel safe, whether it's on campus or on their way to and from school, please let their school and school police know about it so the proper authorities can address the situation.