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Teacher who had gun keeps job

March 16, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - A law that forces school boards to expel students caught with weapons on school property does not apply to teachers found with them, P. Duff Rearick, superintendent of the Greencastle-Antrim School District, said Monday.

Last week, John W. Ressler, 52, of 12930 Forge Road, Mercersburg, Pa., a Greencastle-Antrim High School teacher, was charged with having a handgun on school property following a traffic stop in October. Ressler, a 28-year veteran in the school system, is still teaching, Rearick said.

Ressler could not be reached for comment.

Rearick said he and the School Board considered the case against Ressler and reviewed it with the state Department of Education. Ressler was disciplined but allowed to continue teaching. Rearick would not say what disciplinary action was taken.

"John is an outstanding teacher. He was named teacher of the year a couple of times," Rearick said. "He had a permit to carry the gun. He just forgot to take it out, that's all. He did not bring the gun into the building and there was no threat. We all make mistakes."

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Ressler was charged on March 8, nearly four months after the incident, said Greencastle Police Chief Terry Sanders.

Sanders said police delayed charging Ressler because he had been seriously ill at the time.

"We did a humanitarian thing, that's all. We have up to two years to make an arrest," he said.

The charge stemmed from a stop by a borough police officer for a minor traffic violation on Oct. 27, 1998. Ressler was observed by Patrolman T. A. DeWitt leaving the school grounds at 2:37 p.m. that day, court records said.

Ressler made a left turn onto South Ridge Avenue, then a right turn onto Addition Street in violation of a sign prohibiting right turns there between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., court records said.

DeWitt pulled Ressler over and asked for his driver's license, registration and proof of insurance, court records said.

The officer saw the .357-caliber handgun when Ressler opened the glove box, court records said. Ressler told DeWitt that he had forgotten that it was there. He had a legal permit to carry the weapon, court records said.

Rearick said Ressler told his supervisors about the incident immediately after it happened.

The superintendent said state law requires zero tolerance concerning students with weapons on school property. The law mandates that students caught with weapons on school property be expelled.

He said superintendents have discretion in such cases and can bring the student back to school the next day.

"It depends on how you define weapon," he said.

School law does not apply to teachers or other school personnel. "Other laws cover them," Rearick said. "When it comes to employment, people have rights."

District Justice Shirley Shatzer set Ressler's arraignment for April 6, at 3 p.m.

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