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The arrest of two students for stealing three guns while off school grounds put Meriden’s Platt High School on a statewide list of schools with handgun incidents during the 2011-12 school year.
The students were arrested for theft of the guns off school grounds and faced mandatory expulsion, in addition to police charges, according to school officials. State reporting rules require that any student involvement with weapons be documented to the state. Information on the case was not available because it involved minors.
A recent Hartford Courant story found that at least 1,246 weapons or everyday items used as weapons were reported by 537 of the 1,100 public K-12 schools in 2011-2012. The weapons included at least 16 handguns and two rifles or shotguns.
The state defines weapons as items used to cause injury and range from a handgun to BB gun, pocket knife, switchblade, box cutter, rock, brick, pen, pencil, pop rocks, swords, rubber bands and crumpled up paper. The state only lists schools where one or more incidents involving at least one weapon occurred, so the number of weapons is likely to be higher.
The report led state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, to call for a survey of laws and regulations from around the country in an effort to stop weapons from being brought into schools. Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, told the newspaper he had no idea the number was so high.
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said Fleischmann is in a good position to call for such a study. Bartolomeo, who serves on the Education Committee and chairs the Children’s Committee, said it’s always better to study the extent of a problem before legislating a solution.
Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni said that in the last four years only one of the six expulsions for guns involved an incident in city schools and the weapon was an air gun. The rest occurred off school grounds. Overall, of 14 expulsions in 2012-13, none involved guns of any type. He also said that, within the district, all weapons use and the number of expulsions have gone down. He credits the decrease to more awareness and partnerships with the Juvenile Assistance and Diversion Board, the community resource officers and the police.
“We’re sending a clear message to students and parents of what the expectations are,” Benigni said. “The more we get the message out that guns have no business in school, the better the results. We’re also looking at student behaviors as a community affair. That makes a big difference.”
Meriden’s assistant superintendent for instruction, Robert Angeli, said tracking the types of weapons brought to school or found on students out of school is helpful in understanding students and finding ways to teach safe behavior. Weapons include small pocket knives, box cutters and even pens.
“Anything can become a weapon, even a chair,” said Robert Angeli. “It could be anything used with intent to harm.
“It helps us understand the student population better and helps us plan a proactive approach to encourage behaving in a safe manner,” Angeli added.
Bartolomeo praised city education officials for their zero-tolerance stand on weapons, and for legislative efforts to secure grants for youth activities. She is also calling for better mental health services for young people.
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