Faculty at the school reported that the biggest discipline problems are tardiness, unexcused absences from school, and classroom disturbances. The current principal and assistant principal see about eight students per day for disciplinary reasons, although they estimate that about 5 percent of students create 90 percent of the discipline problems. Fights in school are rare, although according to students, there are several fights each year off school grounds to avoid stiff penalties for fighting at school. School discipline, including punishment, is detailed in a countywide Student Code of Conduct distributed to each student every year. Punishments range from a warning to “flex-time” detention to in-school detention to on-site alternative school to a central county alternative school for the most dangerous offenders. There were no violence prevention education programs for either students or staff prior to the shooting. As the principal explained, safety was a “nonissue” before the school shootings. While the school had emergency plans for firearms in the school, the plans were designed with an outside intruder in mind and were therefore not effective at preventing a school shooting by a student like Michael Carneal.
The figure at the center of this story was a 14-year-old freshman who had been at Heath for less than a semester when the shooting occurred. However, his older sister, Kelly, was well known in the school community since she was an outstanding student (a valedictorian), an active member of the marching band, a regular contributor to the school newspaper, and a member of the choir. Kelly was a senior during Michael’s freshman year, and their parents, John and Ann, were heavily involved with the school through support of Kelly’s activities. They accompanied the band on field trips, helped at the concession stand, and in other ways demonstrated their support for the school. In this the Carneals were not unusual; relative to the high schools with which we are familiar, the level of parental engagement in extracurricular activities at Heath is exceptionally high. Parents know many kids other than their own, and parents know one another as well. Kelly joked that her parents were at the school more than she was. Participation in the church was equally important to the Carneal family, as it is to most of the families in the area, where religiosity is highly valued and the church is a center of social activity.
John Carneal is a long-time unemployment compensation and injury lawyer, and Ann is a homemaker with some postgraduate education. Paducah is a mixed-class community in which professionals like lawyers are at the top of the social pecking order. However, they were not known as snobs. On the contrary, John Carneal’s practice was described to us as “solid” but not overly “flashy”; he mostly represents the hard-working