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Students back gun-toting teacher

| Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Students of Anthony Sarkis expressed hope Monday that the Shaler Area High School English teacher won't lose his job for bringing a pistol to school.

"I'd feel bad for him if he lost his job over this," said senior Greg Miller, 18, of Shaler. Miller said he took a media literacy class with Sarkis two years ago. "He was a really good teacher. He gets along with kids really well. He made sure you knew your stuff."

Police say they do not think Sarkis, 33, of Shaler, realized he had a gun in the backpack he brought to school Feb. 24. The .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun was confiscated from an open bag in a teachers' lounge.

Several students said Sarkis, who teaches literature and media literacy courses, is an outgoing, jovial teacher who is active in school groups, including the school's Key Club, a student community service group affiliated with the Kiwanis Club.

"He's a really good person," said senior John Fries, 18, of Shaler. "He just made a simple mistake. He's a really good guy, he's funny, and he's great with kids."

Sarkis has not been in school since last Tuesday when he told students that he would be away from school, Miller said.

Sarkis had no comment when reached by telephone Sunday.

Shaler Area Superintendent Donald Lee declined comment yesterday. Other officials declined to comment.

The weapon is licensed and registered to Sarkis, who inherited it from his father, Shaler police Chief Jeff Gally said.

Gally said that Sarkis, a Shaler teacher for eight years, apparently forgot the pistol was in his bag, which he typically does not use for school.

Gally said he thinks Sarkis put the gun in a backpack to take to target practice and then forgot the gun was there when he brought the bag to school.

Gally said the investigation is continuing and that Sarkis likely will be charged with possession of a weapon on school grounds, a misdemeanor. Sarkis' arraignment was scheduled today before Shaler District Justice Robert Dzvonick.

"We'll probably file charges, but we feel it was an honest mistake that he made," Gally said. "Severe as it is, he really didn't know that the gun was there."

Gally said police were called to the school after other teachers found the gun. The teachers began looking in the bag to identify its owner, Gally said. After the gun was found, school and police officials were notified.

Senior Justin Stagno, 18, of Shaler, said school officials should let students know what is happening with the Sarkis case instead of leaving students to hear about the case from local media.

"It's no secret," said Stagno. "We might as well hear about it from the officials."

A spokeswoman said the union would look into the circumstances of the case.

"We will investigate all circumstances, and we'll proceed as the circumstances dictate under this case," said Mary Jane Phillips of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

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