Haines reinstates student who brought toy gun to school

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

HAINES (AP) -- Reaction in Haines is mixed over the Haines Borough School Board's decision last month to reinstate a high school junior arrested for bringing a realistic-looking plastic toy gun to school in his backpack.

Although the replica pistol apparently doesn't meet the legal definition of a firearm, some school district employees, including high school principal Darold Kludt and Haines Teachers Association president Patty Brown, say they think the district should have imposed a stiffer penalty for violating the district's gun-free school policy.

The policy bans guns, including rifles and shotguns for hunting, from school grounds in order to qualify for federal school funding.

The board voted unanimously to reinstate the student. He was required to write an essay on the gun-free schools act and to address the student body at a special assembly. He served 11 days' suspension following his Oct. 4 arrest at the school.

The board did not act on Kludt's recommendation that the student be expelled for the remainder of the school year, a measure allowed, but not mandated, under the district's gun-free school policy.

Kludt said the replica, which shoots plastic ammunition, was realistic enough to elicit fear or other reactions if put in plain sight.

''What I saw was a gun,'' Kludt told the Chilkat Valley News.

Haines police chief Greg Goodman said his investigation started with a tip.

''A concerned citizen said a family member had seen the kid with a gun in his backpack. I was concerned. A student at the school with a gun in his backpack, you connect the dots,'' Good man said.

Goodman hurried to the high school and met with the student in the main hallway before escorting him to Kludt's office for questioning and to inspect the replica. The youth said he brought the gun to school to return it to a friend from whom he had borrowed it.

The chief said he agreed with Kludt, an experienced hunter, that the replica looked real enough to elicit deadly reaction under some circumstances.

Goodman handcuffed and arrested the student in Kludt's office. The student was charged with misconduct involving a weapon, a class A misdemeanor, and suspended from school.

Superintendent Ron Erickson said the board decided not to expel the student for the rest of the school year in part because the gun was a replica, and not real.

The district's gun-free school policy defines a firearm as a device that uses an explosive or propellant to shoot projectiles through a barrel one-half inch or larger in diameter.

The replica Baretta semiautomatic pistol brought to school is powered by compressed air. Its bore is less one-quarter inch. The tip of its barrel is painted fluorescent orange, which Erickson said identifies it as a toy.

The fact that the toy looked real -- and shoots BB-sized plastic pellets -- would be enough to warrant expulsion in some school districts.

But Haines' gun-free school rule isn't a so-called ''zero-tolerance'' policy. The board can decide punishments for violations on a case-by-case basis.

''We have the minimum policy as required by law. Lots of districts around the country, especially in the inner city districts, have a policy whereby if a student brings a replica, or a water gun or a toy, they're expelled automatically,'' Erickson said.

The local policy allows guns in the school for hunter safety or marksmanship classes, and allows gun parts to be brought in for woodshop projects, as long as the parts are registered at the school office. ''If the student wants to come in and mount a new stock, we've allowed that, but it's under pretty close scrutiny,'' Kludt said.

Haines Teachers Association president Patty Brown said members are divided over the board's decision. She calls the incident a workplace safety issue.

''You can deliberately hurt somebody seriously with that toy. Only after you look at it carefully do you learn that it's not a firearm. But it is a weapon, and this is about keeping kids safe and focused on learning free from intimidation.''

School board president Jan Hill backed the board's decision, saying the student felt remorse for bringing the replica to school.

''We felt his intent was made clear. He was honest and forthright,'' Hill said.

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