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Uproar Over Student's Toy Gun

Supporters urge the reinstatement of a Ventura teen suspended for bringing a plastic weapon to school to use as a prop in a video.

March 23, 2004|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Protesting the suspension of a student for bringing a plastic air gun to school, more than two dozen parents and supporters turned out at a hearing Monday to ask Ventura school district administrators to reinstate the teenager.

Paul Houchin, 17, was suspended from Foothill Technology High School on March 10 after bringing the air gun to school to be used as a prop in an anti-drug video he was filming in a visual communications class.

A three-person advisory panel that heard the case is expected to make a recommendation to the school board on whether Houchin's suspension should be extended for the rest of the semester. The recommendation could come as early as today, in time for the board's regular meeting.

If he is forced to leave the school, Houchin, an honor student, could finish out the term at independent-study El Camino High School and return to Foothill in the fall.

Houchin said he had put the air gun in his backpack and intended to leave it in his car until he started work on the video after school. But he said he forgot about the gun and accidentally took it to class.

A school staff member overheard him talking about the gun with another student and reported him to the principal's office. Houchin was immediately suspended, with school officials saying they have a zero-tolerance policy on students possessing even a fake gun because of its potential to incite violence or pandemonium.

Though it resembles a real weapon, Houchin's silver-and-black air gun fires small, hard plastic pellets that are not considered harmful.

But since the 1998 rampage at Columbine High School, local officials said they have been extra sensitive about enforcing the district's rules regarding any type of weapon, real or fake.

"Paul is a good kid, but whether he's a good kid or a bad kid is irrelevant in terms of the seriousness of the act," said Foothill Principal Joe Bova, one of six school officials called to testify by the advisory panel.

But Bruce Houchin, the father of the suspended student, said in an earlier interview that the school was overreacting.

"It's a big leap from a gun that can murder a bunch of kids to a plastic gun with plastic balls that won't break the skin," he said.

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