Law allows students back to class despite bringing guns to school

BONNEY LAKE, Wash. — KIRO 7 has learned some students arrested for making threats, or even bringing weapons to school are often allowed and encouraged by state and federal laws to return to the same school weeks later.

Parents and students at Bonney Lake High School reached out to KIRO 7 in February, when they said a student returned to class after he was arrested the previous semester for carrying a loaded handgun to school and allegedly making threats to use it. Bonney Lake police confirmed the arrest, and the discovery of the loaded pistol.

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​"I know my parents got a safety note from the school the day he was arrested," said "Ronda," a BLHS junior who asked us not to use her real name. "Then last month he was right back in school. We were like, why is he back here? Why were our parents not warned?"

Frustrated parents turned to a discussion page on Facebook. Among 200 comments, one wrote "Am I the only parent who is concerned that BLHS allowed the boy who brought the gun to school back in class? This is crazy!"

Rhonda said BLMS teachers, who seemed willing to discuss the arrest the day it happened, told students they were not allowed to talk about the conditions of the student's return. The Sumner School District told KIRO 7 student privacy laws prevented them from sharing specific information, but the situation was "handled." The district did not return phone messages Monday.

Under the Federal Gun Free Schools Act and a similar state law (RCW 28A.600.420) a student "shall be expelled from school for not less than one year" for firearms violations. But the laws also allow that district superintendent "may modify the expulsion of a student on a case-by-case basis."

But according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, (OSPI) special education students with known disabilities are given more federal rights to continue their education after being disciplined.

That means by law, a student could return to the same school within 45 days, even if they're accused of making threats, or bringing a weapon to school -- if the school determines the behavior happened because of the disability.

A legal expert with OSPI also said special exceptions are made for students with an IEP (Individualized Education Program).

According to Washington state law, "Students eligible for special education, in general, may not be removed from her/his educational placement for more than 10 school days in a row or be subjected to a series of removals that total more than 10 school days in a year."

"The exception to the rule, however, is when your student's misbehavior involves 'Special Circumstances'- weapons, illegal drugs, or serious bodily injury. Your student may be removed for up to 45 school days regardless of whether your student's behavior was a manifestation of her/his disability."

Since the high school shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida, KIRO 7 has covered school shooting threats in Blaine, Bremerton, Eatonville, Spanaway Lake, Tacoma, Renton and Seattle.

Some have resulted in student arrests, but privacy laws prevent school districts from revealing specific details about students with an IEP.

Rhonda says students used to communicating every emotion on social media would feel more assured if they heard more details. "Especially now, after the Florida shooting, I feel if you bring a weapon to school you shouldn't be allowed back into that school," she said.