Weapon offenses down in Tri-City school districts

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 22, 2014 

Weapons violations by students were down in most of the eight school districts in the Tri-Cities and surrounding area during the previous school year.

More than 100 students were suspended and 12 expelled for weapons-related offenses in 2012-13, according to a state report. That's down 31 percent from the 170 suspensions and expulsions the year before.

A Kennewick student was the only one from the area suspended for a firearm-related offense in 2012-13, the report said. Two-thirds of the other weapons violations involved knives or daggers, resulting in 72 suspensions and seven expulsions.

Public and private schools must report incidents of weapons found on school grounds to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and whether a student was suspended or expelled as a result.

Items such as guns, knives and other conventional weapons fall under weapons guidelines, but so can items such as pipes, pencils and razors when used in a threatening manner, officials said. Districts also may report incidents that happen outside of school but involve students and come to the attention of administrators.

Many Mid-Columbia districts reported spikes in suspensions and expulsions for weapon violations in the 2011-12 school year but have gone back to what they were before that jump. The Pasco School District saw its numbers drop even further, to 28 suspensions and no expulsions, down from 55 suspensions and an expulsion in 2011-12, and 49 suspensions and three expulsions in 2010-11.

"While numbers do fluctuate from year to year, we are hopeful that this is the new trend. Besides increased security and safety measures, we have also put emphasis on after-school programs and activities that help keep students engaged in positive activities," said Leslee Caul, Pasco's spokeswoman, in an email.

The Richland School District saw only a slight decline from its jump in weapons violations last year. The North Franklin School District was the only district with an overall increase, with seven suspensions and two expulsions, up from a single suspension and six expulsions in 2011-12.

District officials said they take precautions to ensure student safety. There is increased awareness about weapons on school grounds, said Robyn Chastain, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District. The district is seeing more reports of students bringing air-powered pellet guns, which often resemble real weapons.

"They're toys and (students) are going to want to show their friends," she said.

Many incidents, however, do not involve threats of violence and are mostly unintentional, such as a student forgetting about the pocketknife in a backpack after a weekend camping trip, officials said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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