Friday, November 22, 2002

Hawaii County

School suspends 6
seventh-graders after
2 guns taken
on campus

By Matt Sedensky
Associated Press

A Big Island school suspended six seventh-grade boys this week after one of them took two guns on campus, but state officials said yesterday the rarity of such incidents in Hawaii means major security changes are not necessary.

Janice Hiraoka, principal at Keaau Middle School, said there had never been a gun incident at the school in her five years there, and state Department of Education officials said it was the first time this year that a gun was taken into a school in Hawaii.

Hiraoka said two guns were taken to the school last Thursday and Friday. The same student took both of the weapons, which were then passed on to five others. Two of those students carried the guns home.

When parents discovered the weapons, they took them to police, and the incidents were reported to school officials.

Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said the guns were not used in any threatening way. "There was not a threat of violence associated with it," Knudsen said. "It appears that it was more a matter of just showing off."

Hiraoka said that was merely speculation, though she said she was not aware of any conflict among the students.

Neither Knudsen nor Hiraoka would provide details on the types of guns, the source of the weapons and whether they were loaded. The identities of the boys involved and their disciplinary records were unavailable.

Under the Gun-Free Schools Act, school districts must expel for one year any student who takes a firearm to school. All 50 states have passed such laws.

Hiraoka said she expected the boys to be alerted to their punishment within a few days. She said the district was in charge of issuing the disciplinary action but that she believed the minimum action was a one-year suspension.

Knudsen said "there may be some leeway" on the punishment.

Officials would not say whether criminal charges would be filed against any of the boys.

Keaau Middle School already has two security attendants. Hiraoka said a school safety manager -- a retired police officer -- will be assigned to the 650-student school next month. She said that decision was independent of the recent gun incidents.

Still, unlike some mainland schools, no major changes such as metal detectors or bag searches, are planned.

A 1999 U.S. Department of Education report shows Hawaii had among the lowest rates of gun violations in schools. Five students were expelled during the period examined, a rate of 0.027 per 1,000 students. Only four states had lower rates: Connecticut, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. Louisiana and Utah had the same rate.

Hawaii state statistics on firearms in school go further than federal numbers. State statistics include air guns, BB guns, pellet guns and paint guns.

At Keaau, counselors and administrators are making classroom visits to discuss the seriousness of the issue.

"I was glad that we were given the opportunity to address the situation but not have to deal with it in a way that someone was injured," Hiraoka said.

State Department of Education

E-mail to City Desk


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