Fifth-grader charged with bringing weapons to school

December 24, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Hagerstown City Police on Wednesday charged a fifth-grader with bringing a butcher knife and two live rifle cartridges into Bester Elementary School.

The 11-year-old boy, whose name was withheld because he is a juvenile, faces legal penalties and suspension from school, police and school officials said.

Police said incidents of students bringing weapons into schools are rare in Washington County, especially for children so young. But they said they take all cases seriously.

"We do prosecute for that," Sgt. Dennis Ballam said.

Ballam said the student showed off the weapons to other students and apparently did not threaten anyone.

Hagerstown City Police Capt. Robert Hart said incidents of weapons in local schools are so rare that police do not keep statistics separate from other juvenile crimes.


"It's not common at all. It happens occasionally, maybe every couple of months," he said.

Juvenile justice officials, however, said they refuse to become complacent.

"The message we want to get out is: We don't tolerate weapons on school property," said Robert E. Weaver, county supervisor of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Weaver said the law allows for flexibility in juvenile crime. Some cases are handled informally.

A weapons charge, however, would most likely draw a formal hearing within 30 days, Weaver said.

Penalties could range from supervised probation to placement in youth detention facility, Weaver said.

A judge also could order a youth to undergo counseling, attend education programs and perform community service.

The severity of the penalty would vary depending upon the circumstances of the incident and whether the child intended to harm others.

Even if a student merely wants to show off a weapon to his friends, though, Weaver said consequences will follow.

"The times have kind of changed. We've all come to the point where we have no tolerance for weapons in school," he said.

Whatever penalty the child faces from the juvenile justice system is separate from his punishment in school, authorities said.

"At this point in time, it's at the discretion of the principal of the school after they have a parent conference," Washington County schools spokeswoman Donna Messina said.

School officials automatically call police any time a student brings a weapon to school, Messina said.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said students who bring weapons into school must be suspended for at least a day.

In the most extreme cases, students can be suspended for much longer or even be expelled, although Bartlett said that is extremely rare.

Any suspension of more than 10 days must be approved by the Washington County Board of Education.

"One thing I want to stress to the public is that anything (that can be considered a weapon) no matter how small is to be kept at home," Messina said. "It disrupts the school day and in some cases scares the youngsters."

Staff Writer Kimberly Yakowski contributed to this story.

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