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Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK


Schools safer as weapon count falls

Columbine High School: The worst classroom massacre

Schools in the US are becoming safer, with fewer pupils expelled for carrying arms, according to new figures.

America and the Gun
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  • The statistics were released by the US Department of Education on Tuesday - the same day that a gunman opened fire in a Jewish day care centre outside Los Angeles, injuring five people.

    They come just four months after the country's worst classroom massacre at Columbine High School in Denver, in which 12 pupils and a teacher were gunned down by two students.

    The figures cover a period pre-dating this incident, as they relate to the 1997/8 school year, but Education Secretary Richard Riley said they were "encouraging".


    They show that almost a third fewer pupils were expelled for carrying arms than the year before - 3,930 students down from 5,724.

    Of those expelled, 62% of students were caught bringing a handgun to school, 31% were carrying some kind of explosive device, and 7% had rifles or shotguns.

    [ image: Columbine students struggled to come to terms with the tragedy]
    Columbine students struggled to come to terms with the tragedy
    Nearly 400 of the pupils, or 10%, were in elementary schools (aged 5-12), a third were in junior high schools (aged 12-14), and 57% in high schools (aged 14-18).

    Under the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act, states must force school districts to expel students for at least one year, and pupils with disabilities for 45 days, if they bring guns to school.

    Texas had the highest number of expulsions - 424, followed by California, which had 382. This was despite a 20% drop in Texas from the previous year, and a 47% decrease in California.

    'Good news'

    There were no weapon-related expulsions in Wyoming or the US territories of Samoa, Guam and Northern Marianas.

    Ohio had the largest decline - 87%. In 1997/8, 119 students were expelled for carrying weapons, compared with 937 students the previous year.

    Oregon saw a 59% increase, and the number of pupils expelled in Tennessee nearly doubled.

    Mr Riley said: "This is good news coupled with the face that the overall rate of school violence is down."

    But he warned that efforts to keep schools secure should be kept up.

    "Communities need to continue to use comprehensive approaches to keeping schools, students and educators safe."

    'Message getting through'

    In the 12 months prior to the Columbine killings there were seven fatal school shootings, which left 16 dead.

    Many inner-city high schools now use airport-style security gates to screen out weapons.

    "We are acutely aware of the tragedies of the last two years. I don't think any of us rest easy today," Mr Riley said.

    Bill Modzeleski, director of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Programme, said the drop in expulsions was due to tougher enforcement by police and school officials, and improved communications with parents.

    "I think the message that guns are not tolerated in schools is getting through."

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