Updated: 08/01/2014 6:21 PM
Created: 07/31/2014 7:21 PM WHEC.com
By: Brett Davidsen
A city school teacher is accused of having a loaded gun with her on a school field trip. Investigators say a scanner detected the gun in Diane Watkins’s purse while she was touring the Statue of Liberty with kids in New York City.
News10NBC obtained a letter from Rochester City School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas to the families, students and staff at Rochester STEM High School where Watkins worked. In it, he makes clear that the district policy only allows law enforcement and people with authority to carry weapons at school functions.
Diane Watkins is an outspoken social studies teacher. Earlier this week, she was at a rally in support of teacher tenure. She worked last year at Rochester STEM High School in the Edison Tech building.
Adam Urbanski, Rochester Teacher’s Association, said, “I understand that she is a very good teacher and has that reputation of being an excellent teacher."
News10NBC is learning more details about her arrest in New York City on May 31, while chaperoning students on a field trip. According to police there, she was arrested while going through an x-ray machine at the Statue of Liberty. Police found a 380 caliber handgun in her purse and charged her with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, which is a felony. Police say she did not have a permit to carry a weapon in New York City.
Urbanski said, “Ms. Watkins, like any other citizen, has the right to due process. We should not rush to judgment and we should let the process take its course."
Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski says he can't talk about particulars of Watkins's case because it is pending. The union was just notified Thursday that the district had sent Watkins a letter informing her that she was being assigned to the alternate work location when school resumes until the matter is resolved.
According to New York City corrections, Watkins was in custody for two days until June 2. According to the superintendent’s letter, two other adults from the school accompanied the ten students who completed the field trip under their supervision.
When questioned about her absence from the group, the letter says Watkins did not provide an answer. According to the superintendent, it was weeks later that the district learned Watkins had actually been charged with a crime. She is due back in court in New York City in October.
There’s some question about when the superintendent was actually notified. While the district learned of the charges a few weeks ago, there are questions about whether that information was ever shared with Dr. Vargas before Thursday. In a letter, he acknowledges, “the situation could have been communicated and managed more effectively within the organization.”
In the statement, the district says:
"The District was aware that Ms. Watkins was detained during the trip to New York City, but she would not say why and we could not legally compel her to explain. District and school officials learned of the charges against her in a communication from her attorney received the week of July 7. The District is instructing Ms. Watkins not to contact students over the summer and will assign her to the Alternate Work Location when school resumes until this matter is resolved."