As part of the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, states receiving federal funds were required to establish laws regarding firearms. The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 (GFSA) mandates the expulsion, for a period of not less than one year, of students who bring a firearm to school.
All states rely on federal funds to supplement their educational needs, so compliance with this legislation was unanimous.
Unfortunately, many administrators aren't familiar with the details of the law. This exposes them and their districts to possible civil liability.
Under the GFSA, states must establish laws requiring schools to immediately remove from the regular school setting students who bring a firearm to school (or other location under the control of the school).
The student must be removed for at least a year, although the chief school administrator may modify the punishment.
The period of removal pertains to the regular education setting. Alternative educational services may be provided, according to the GFSA, but schools may terminate all educational services to a student who violates this act, as long as no other legal requirements are infringed upon.
Private schools are free to follow these mandates, but are not required to do so. However, students in private schools who use public-school services are subject to the provisions of the GFSA as related to those services.
For example, a private school student who brings a gun to the public school where he attends music lessons is subject to a one-year removal from the public school. It's up to the private school to decide whether to take additional action against the student.
The definition of firearm in the GFSA is consistent with that provided under Section 921 of Title 18 of the United States Code. In short, this includes handguns, rifles (including BB and pellet guns), shotguns and explosives (not including common fireworks).
The GFSA also requires that police be notified when a student violates the Act. Any action taken by criminal justice or juvenile agencies will be in addition to, and independent of, discipline imposed by a school. A student may be found not guilty of criminal charges, but still be subject to the provisions of the GFSA.
State legislatures can enact even more stringent mandates. For example, New Jersey expanded the scope of the GFSA to include students convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a crime anywhere in the state.
School officials are encouraged to review their state laws so they are familiar with any additional local mandates.
One important factor to be considered is the liability of a school district that does not follow the response required by the GFSA when a student commits a violation.
This is potentially troublesome for school officials and their districts if a student commits an offense, is not removed from school, and subsequently commits another violent act at school.
Dunn is a career police officer who worked several years as police chief for a large high school district. He has conducted site assessments and training programs with dozens of school districts.