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School Gun Crackdown Touted

Education: Report says 6,000 students were expelled nationwide for having firearms on campus last year.


Along with their books and backpacks, more than 6,000 students took firearms to school during the 1996-1997 academic year and were expelled, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

"This report is a clear indication that our nation's public schools are cracking down on students who bring guns to school," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a statement.

The report gives the first state-by-state view of the impact of the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994. Under the law, school districts are required to hand down a one-year expulsion to any student who takes a firearm to school. States that fail to comply with the law must forfeit their share of federal education aid.

Although data were collected for the 1995-1996 school year, they were not statistically sound and were not released, said Bill Modzeleski, director of the Education Department's Safe and Drug-Free Schools program.

"This is the first time we've been able to look at the data with any degree of validity," he said. "It takes several years to get these data-collecting systems in place."

Nationwide, high school students accounted for 56% of the expulsions, while 34% of those expelled were in junior high school and 9% were in elementary school.

California expelled 723 students for taking guns to school during the 1996-1997 academic year--a larger number than any other state. The District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Wyoming reported no expulsions for firearms possession during that year.

But the report cautions against comparisons because the quality of data on expulsions varies from state to state.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the number of students expelled for taking guns to campus is declining, said Wayne Iwahashi, administrator of the student discipline proceedings units. Increased awareness of the penalty and intervention in the form of counseling may be playing a role in the decrease, he said.

During the 1993-94 school year, 80 students were expelled for taking guns to school, Iwahashi said. By 1996-1997 that number had dropped to 51.

Random locker searches and metal detectors help deter gun possession on campus, he said, but weapons are usually found because of talk among students.

"That's how we generally get our leads," Iwahashi said. "I think students understand the difference between right and wrong, and they're also concerned about their safety."

Students who have been found with guns on campus offer a variety of reasons, from wanting to show them off to needing to protect themselves off campus, while walking home or at a bus stop, Iwahashi said.

"Most of them talk about protection being the primary motivation," he said. "Sometimes we do have rare cases where the student actually intends to use it."

In the Long Beach Unified School District the number of students expelled in gun cases is also declining, said Alta Cooke, director of attendance service.

During the 1996-97 school year, four firearms were found on campuses and 12 students were expelled. This year two students have been expelled for taking weapons to school.

"We're very pleased about that decline," Cooke said. "There's just a lot of good things going on on campus."

Administrators and teachers have held assemblies, offered small-group counseling, enforced a dress code and taken other measures to increase awareness of the penalty and improve the overall atmosphere on campus, she said.

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