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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

BOE outlines 26 cases of firearms in schools

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

HANAMA'ULU, Kaua'i — Forty-two students in Hawai'i public schools faced mandatory expulsion last year for bringing firearms to school, although the penalties normally amounted to suspensions for a few weeks to a year, and the Department of Education continued to provide them with educational services.

The state Board of Education last night approved a report to next year's state Legislature, outlining violations of the state's mandatory expulsion policy for possession of a firearm.

The 42 students were involved in 26 incidents. The difference is because in some cases several students may have participated in bringing a single firearm to school. Under the federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, a one-year suspension is authorized in such cases.

Schools superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said that each case automatically is brought to her office's attention, and cases are handled differently depending on circumstances. Elementary school kids who may bring a firearm to school for show-and-tell without understanding the law are generally treated more leniently than older kids who should know better, she said.

Under state law, the term firearm includes a number of types of weapons. The state's schools reacted to just five cases in which a traditional firearm, such as a shotgun or handgun, was used. There were 18 cases involving an air-powered pellet or BB gun, one involving a paintball gun, one an explosive and one a toy gun with noisemaking popping capability.

In the explosive case in December 2002, a Kaua'i High School student had wrapped up a small amount of firecracker powder to make a larger explosive.

The report showed the incidents occurred at 18 schools, and there was no particular hotbed of firearm activity. There were cases in each of the state's seven school districts. The highest numbers were at Moanalua Middle School on O'ahu and Kea'au Middle School on the Big Island, with three cases each. Moanalua's incidents involved six students and Kea'au's seven students.

Hamamoto said that even when suspended, students must, by law, be provided with educational services. The Department of Education arranges after-school and weekend classes, and sometimes summer school for students removed because of firearms violations.

"There's no guarantee that they'll get all their credits, but we do provide for them the educational program that would provide for them the ability to progress toward graduation in a timely manner," she said.