Saturday, February 11, 2006

Rainier School Board upholds two expulsions

RAINIER -- The Rainier School Board Wednesday night upheld two expulsions involving the December pellet gun incident at the high school, virtually guaranteeing that Rainier will be put on the state's dangerous schools watch list.

A lawyer representing both students argued that airsoft pellet guns are not "weapons" as described by the student handbook and that in the case of at least one of the student a year-long expulsion was too harsh.

In a closed executive session, the board upheld the discipline of senior who was expelled for a quarter. The second appeal was held in open session at the request of the family of senior Marc Slape, 18, who was expelled for an entire year.

The two students were among four students expelled over the pellet gun incident. Airsoft pellet guns use plastic BBs fired by compressed springs, and manufacturers warn that misuse may cause severe injuries or death.
Combined with two other expulsions -- one for selling drugs on a bus and another for possession of a knife on campus -- the school this year has recorded six expulsions for "violent" offenses. That makes it eligible to go on the state's dangerous schools watch list. Once on that list, the district must submit the state a plan on how it will reduce violence.

Rainier attorney Steve Petersen cited two key elements in Slape's appeal. One, the definition of a weapon; two, the length of the expulsion, which he described as "excessive" and "cruel and unusual punishment."

According to the school's student handbook, a "weapon" is described in part as "any object which will or is designed to expel a projectile by action of an explosive." "There is no doubt that there is no explosive in an air soft pellet gun," Petersen told the school board.

He also challenged whether Slape's use of the pellet gun fits the student handbook's description of a "dangerous weapon." The student handbook says a dangerous weapon is a device, instrument, material or substance that is "readily capable of causing death or serious injury," depending on the circumstances in which it is used.

"The circumstances were that he shot at a light post," Petersen said. "There is no question that this does not fall under your definition of a dangerous weapon. No way was it used to attempt to cause death or serious injury."

After listening to Petersen, the school board went into an executive session. When the board returned a half-hour later, board member Kelly Barnes announced: "We do believe an air soft pellet gun fits the description of 'weapon,' and it is a dangerous weapon. Marc knew it was wrong to have it on school grounds. Therefore, we uphold the expulsion."
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