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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 22, 2002

Kea'au boys suspended over guns in school

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

Six students at Kea'au Middle School on the Big Island were suspended and are facing mandatory one-year expulsion after one of the boys brought a pair of handguns to school last week.

School officials said there is no evidence the boys, all seventh-graders, meant to hurt anyone or were planning to carry out any acts of violence.

Kea'au Middle School Principal Janice Hiraoka said yesterday that one student brought a handgun to school Nov. 14 and a second gun the following day. Both handguns were passed on to other students, and two of the boys took the weapons home.

On Monday morning, a parent of one of the boys notified the school that her son had come home last Friday with a handgun. Police recovered the two unloaded weapons by 10 a.m. Monday and the students were immediately placed on a 10-day "crisis suspension" while school officials investigate, Hiraoka said.

Capt. Elroy Osorio of the Hawai'i County Police Department's Puna District said the semiautomatic handguns were registered but would not say to whom they belong. Osorio said the case involves potential violations of several firearms laws, including failing to properly store a weapon and failing to keep firearms secure from children.

No arrests have been made and Osorio said the case likely will be passed on to prosecutors to determine whether charges are warranted.

The Federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 and Hawai'i State Act 148 provide that any student who is found to be in possession of a firearm while attending school shall be excluded from school for at least a year. The laws covers all firearms, including shotguns, air guns, BB guns and pellet guns.

The state Department of Education reported that during the 2000-2001 school year, there were 13 incidents of guns on public school campuses that involved a total of 17 students. Numbers from last year were not immediately available.

Hiraoka said that because officials are still sorting out what happened, it is too early to say whether any of the Kea'au students will be disciplined beyond the 10-day crisis suspension.

The ultimate decision about the boys' status will be determined by Judith Saranchock, complex area superintendent for the Kea'au, Pahoa and Ka'u school complexes. Saranchock said yesterday the crisis suspension period is meant to give officials time to determine the circumstances surrounding a serious incident. She said she will consider each student's case individually, and would handle any appeals from parents.

Her office has received a number of calls from parents concerned about school safety, but Saranchock said she has not heard of any students being pulled out of Kea'au Middle School, which has 650 students in grades 6 through 8.

Hiraoka said the faculty and staff held an emergency meeting Monday about the incident, and administrators visited each classroom to discuss "the seriousness of weapons on campus." The principal also sent a note home Wednesday asking parents to tell their children of the potential danger of weapons and to report suspicious behavior that might jeopardize school safety. Students also are being advised of the consequences of breaking federal and state laws prohibiting guns on campus.

Hiraoka said parents were not formally notified until Wednesday because she wanted to wait until all the facts were available.