Gulf District Schools gain viral attention for signs warning ‘deadly violence’ to those harming students

When Jim McKnight, Wewahitchka resident and director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition, posted a photo of the new sign hanging on Wewahitchka High School’s door to Facebook, he didn’t expect it to go viral.

But just a few days later, his photo had been picked up by national news outlets and shared more than 1,000 times.

“It has been shared by thousands, including Jodi Thibodeau Rustin, whose post was shared 606 times. Her comment ‘I wouldn’t raise my kids anywhere else’ says it best,” McKnight said.

The signs, which were implemented at all Gulf County public schools, read “Warning: Staff members are armed and trained. Any attempt to harm children will be met with deadly force.”

Gulf District Schools have been in discussions about making adjustments to their school safety plans for several months, though these meetings and the subject material discussed within them are not a matter of public record.

In a statement to the press, Jim Norton, the Superintendent of Gulf District Schools said “readiness and preparation is key for our ability to do what is necessary to respond should an actual threat be made. In saying that, it’s in all our best interests that some features of our plans not be publicly divulged.”

“…As far as posted signage goes, its purpose isn’t meant for gaining notoriety, but simply to convey the message most everyone should agree with… we are prepared to protect the children entrusted to us.”

The school district has been part of the state’s guardian program for three years, under which school employees can volunteer to be trained and armed to help prevent or abate active shooter situations.

Each school also has a school resource officer through the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office.

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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