Millard school board members added flexibility to the district’s student discipline code Monday for situations involving toy guns.
The policy change comes after the controversial expulsion of three students for possessing toy BB guns outside an elementary school.
Board members voted 5-0 to dump a zero-tolerance policy and replace it with a range of penalties for students who possess Airsoft, paintball and BB guns on school property.
The zero-tolerance policy mandated a one-year expulsion.
Under the new policy, the minimum penalty will be a 20-day suspension. The maximum will be a 365-day expulsion.
Board member Dave Anderson said the zero-tolerance policy “hogtied” administrators.
“I think allowing some flexibility for our administrators is appropriate,” he said.
The board should trust administrators to evaluate each situation on its merits, he said.
The board didn’t change the penalty for bringing a real gun to school: a mandatory minimum penalty of expulsion for a year.
The previous policy regarding look-alike and Airsoft guns raised questions after the expulsions of the three boys.
The boys were playing with Airsoft BB guns outside Grace Abbott Elementary School on Oct. 1 after school hours. A neighbor called police.
Last week a panel of Millard school board members reduced the punishment after the boys’ parents appealed. The Kiewit Middle School students will return to school Thursday.
Mike Pate, school board president, said the policy change was needed because the zero-tolerance policy conflicted with the panel’s decision.
Pate said he still considers look-alike guns a serious issue.
“My message is ‘Keep them away from school,’ ” he said. “If you want to play, take them to the park.”
Pate said he was concerned about the message the board sends by backing off on its zero-tolerance policy. The public is worried about school security, he said.
Board member Paul Meyer said the 20-day minimum penalty was too severe for younger students.
“I don’t want to crucify the kid who made a stupid mistake,” Meyer said.
Other metro-Omaha districts have shown similar flexibility in disciplining students.
Omaha Public Schools allow expulsion and long-term suspension for possession of BB, Airsoft and paintball guns, but administrators have discretion to impose less-severe punishment.
Elkhorn Public Schools’ policy calls for a one-year expulsion of students possessing a look-alike weapon on school grounds, but the superintendent may modify the expulsion “on an individual basis.”
The Papillion-La Vista district prohibits toy guns and look-alikes. Its policy allows suspension and expulsion but also makes room for discretion, depending on the situation.