(Virginia Beach, VA) WAVY-TV Channel 10 in Virginia reports that three junior high students were given lengthy suspensions for firing airsoft guns. These are replicas of actual handguns and rifles that fire a plastic pellet or BB. In most states a florescent orange tip is required in order to distinguish them from actual weapons.
The Virginia Beach City Public School Board’s disciplinary committee on Tuesday morning unanimously decided to suspend Aiden Clark, Khalid Caraballo and a third friend until June from Larkspur Middle School. Their principal, Matthew Delaney, initially requested that the committee expel the boys. They will be allowed a hearing next semester on January 27th to determine whether they can come back to school earlier. (See letter from school district)
The incident occurred on September 12th when the boys shot two other friends while they were waiting to be picked up by the school bus. The boys said they never went to the bus stop with the guns and these were fired on the Caraballo’s property.
Aidan’s father, Tim Clark, told WAVY.com what happened next lacks commons sense. The children were suspended for possession, handling and use of a firearm. On Tuesday, that offense was changed by school officials to possession, handling and use of an airsoft gun.
Khalid’s mother, Solangel Caraballo, thinks it is ridiculous the Virginia Beach City Public School System suspended her 13-year-old son and his friends because they were firing a spring-driven airsoft gun on the Caraballo’s private property.
“My son is my private property,” she said. “He does not become the school’s property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school.”
The bus stop in question is 70 yards from the Caraballo’s front yard.
There was an initial 911 call on September 9th (audio here)
A neighbor saw Khalid shooting the airsoft gun in his front yard three days before the incident that got the boys in trouble. She told the dispatcher, “He is pointing the gun, and it looks like there’s a target in a tree in his front yard”.
WAVY.com located the 911 caller and spoke to her. She confirmed Khalid was taking target practice using a zombie hunter airsoft gun to kill the zombies. There was also a net behind the target to catch the plastic pellets.
The caller also knew the gun wasn’t real and said so: “This is not a real one, but it makes people uncomfortable. I know that it makes me [uncomfortable], as a mom, to see a boy pointing a gun,” she told the 911 dispatcher.
The 911 caller’s son was playing with the same boys on September 12. But there was a second 911 call (audio here) that led to the suspensions. This call confirms that Khalid Caraballo did not leave his private property during the incident. Aiden Clark, however, ran into the street:
The caller was speaking about 12-year-old Aidan Clark, who admits he ran off Caraballo’s property into the street in front of Khalid’s house.
“I ran and chased him. I aimed to shoot, and I saw a car on the right,” Clark said.
“He looked directly at me and the black child kept on running,” the 911 caller said.
Aidan was chasing a third child, who is African American and who was also suspended. Aidan says Khalid never left his property and none of the boys shot the guns while in the street.
The police are not charging the juveniles. The Virginia City Code states:
City Code 38-3, primarily section (d) “ Notwithstanding any other provisions of this section, it shall be unlawful for any person to discharge any firearm, spring-propelled rifle or pistol, from, on, across or within one hundred fifty (150) yards of any building, dwelling, street, sidewalk, alley, roadway or public land or public place within the city limits.”
Section (f) “No person shall use a pneumatic gun in the area of the city described in (a) above except (i) at approved shooting ranges or (ii) on or within private property with permission of the owner or legal possessor thereof when conducted with reasonable care to prevent a projectile from crossing the bounds of the property. For purposes of this subsection, “pneumatic gun” means any implement designed as a gun that will expel a BB or a pellet by action of pneumatic pressure, including but not limited to paintball guns. Further, for the purpose of this subsection
“reasonable care” means that the pneumatic gun is discharged in a manner so the projectile is contained on the property by a backstop, earthen embankment or fence. The discharge of projectiles across or over the bounds of the property shall create the rebuttable presumption that the use of the pneumatic gun was not conducted with reasonable care and shall constitute a Class 3 misdemeanor. “
The point that the parents of the students have made regarding this incident that this is a parental issue; not a school issue.
The school district tweeted out the chairman of the school board’s response to this incident.
Please see School Board Chairman’s statement on air soft gun incident: pic.twitter.com/CJM7gnl8Ga
— vbschools (@vbschools) September 24, 2013
Thoughts: While student safety is important this is an overreaction to the use of airsoft guns which thousands of boys play with nationwide (including my son). It is important that these kids use them in a responsible manner, but the initial phone call to 911 was made mainly because one adult felt uncomfortable because they look like real weapons. The boys should never shoot unwilling participants and eye protection should also be used. Obviously they should be careful running into the street, and not disobey their parents who did not give them permission to use them before school.
That said, the students did not take these airsoft guns to the bus stop. It was being played on private property. It was before the school day. If there was wrong doing it should have been handled by the parents and any other involved parties, not the school. The board chairman said this was a reasonable action to ensure student safety. I disagree. It is generally not the school’s responsibility to ensure student safety when incidents occur outside of school property or during the school day. There may be certain cases where it would be reasonable for a school district to act in this manner (juvenile violence that could carry over to the school). This is not one of those cases and suspending the students for the rest of the school year is definitely over the top. One student will be homeschooled and another will be going to an alternative school. If I were the parents I wouldn’t even think about sending them back.