More Mid-Columbia students were suspended or expelled in the 2011-12 school year for bringing a weapon to school, according to data provided to the Herald by eight school districts in the Tri-Cities and surrounding areas.
Though no district had a large spike in the number of incidents, 170 students were suspended or expelled, about 40 more than in 2010-11, with the bulk of those involving knives or other non-firearm weapons.
There were fewer incidents of guns being brought to class. Kennewick, with three, was the only district reporting a gun incident in 2011-12. Five incidents were reported in Kennewick and Richland the year before.
Officials say area schools still are safe and most weapons incidents did not lead to students being threatened or harmed.
"I can't even recall a kid at a school who brought out a knife to use it," said Ron Williamson, Kennewick's assistant superintendent for secondary instruction.
Public and private schools must report incidents of weapons found on school grounds and whether a student was expelled or suspended for possessing a weapon. The Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction publishes those reports annually.
Fewer students statewide have brought weapons to schools in recent years, particularly when it comes to knives and other weapons, which can include pipes, razors, pencils and brass knuckles. Guns have represented a small but stable portion of weapons incidents.
Many districts saw some increase in weapons activity at their schools. The Richland School District suspended 13 more students in 2011-12 for weapons than in 2010-11. Pasco schools suspended 10 more students in 2011-12 than the previous year for bringing a knife or dagger to school, though all weapons-related expulsions were down.
Prosser school officials expelled seven students for having knives at school in 2011-12 and the North Franklin School District expelled six students for having weapons. Neither district expelled any students for weapons the prior school year.
Todd Baddley, Richland's assistant superintendent for secondary instruction, said some things -- such as a sharp pencil -- only become a weapon when they're used in a threatening manner.
Kennewick's Williamson said weapons suspensions or expulsions also happen for incidents that happen outside of school. Two students were expelled from Horse Heaven Hills Middle School last year for threatening students with a handgun in a residential neighborhood near the school and taking their cellphones.
"The next day at school kids were talking about it. That's how the school got involved," he said.
Most incidents though, especially those involving knives, are innocent and accidental, officials said. Sometimes it's a badly reasoned choice for show-and-tell, but most often it's a student forgetting they had it in their backpack from a camping or fishing trip.
"They don't think of it as a weapon, they think 'I'm going hunting, I'm going fishing, this is what I use,' " said Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill.
Regardless, the districts take all reports of weapons seriously, officials said. The increase in the number of incidents reported actually means something positive: more students are telling teachers and administrators when they see something that isn't safe.
"The kids want a safe school and they have an ear out," Baddley said.