Report: Third of school districts didn’t report weapons incidents

ST. PAUL (AP) — For the third year in a row, more than a third of Minnesota’s public school districts failed to report dangerous weapons incidents to the state as required by law.
Some districts may not want to show the public the problems they have had and others don’t take the time to report because there are no consequences if they don’t, said Thomas Lombard, author of the state report on weapons incidents for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years, which was released Tuesday.
“There’s really not much in it for them,” Lombard said. “If they don’t send it in, so what?”
State law requires districts to report how many students are found with weapons, including knives, guns, explosives, blunt objects and even toy replicas. In the 1997-98 school year, 36 percent of school districts failed to tell the state how many weapons problems they had. Their reports were due July 1.
Republican attorney general candidate Rep. Charlie Weaver of Anoka, sponsor of the 1994 reporting law, called the districts’ inaction reprehensible.
Weaver and Lombard also said they believe some districts are underreporting how many weapons are found on their campuses. For example, the Minneapolis School District, the largest in the state, reported 50 incidents for 1996-97, down from 150 the year before, while the much smaller Osseo School District reported 68 incidents.
“For school districts to refuse to report or to intentionally underreport is outrageous,” Weaver, an Anoka County prosecutor, said at a Capitol news conference.
A spokeswoman for the Minneapolis schools said the district did not turn in this year’s figures because of a clerical error. She also said they are refiguring the 1996-97 numbers because they appear to be too low.
“We have a little egg on our face here,” said Mary Pattock, the district’s communications director. “It (the 1997-98 report) was sitting on somebody’s desk and had not been sent. As we speak it is being couriered over to the department.”
Weaver suggested the state withhold school aid payments to districts that don’t make an accurate report. He also wants to make it easier for schools, social services and law enforcement agencies to exchange information about students’ records.
If he were attorney general, Weaver also said he would try to:
ù Require police to report within two days students involved in a felony.
ù Allow schools to search students’ desks and other facilities owned by the district.
ù Allow the state to try those 14 years and older as adults if charged with having a firearm in a school zone.
ù Increase to a felony the penalty for bringing a replica firearm or BB gun on school property.
Data released Tuesday on weapons reporting shows a slight decrease in reported incidents. In the 1996-97 school year, schools reported 1,119 incidents, down from the 1,161 incidents reported the year before. The majority of cases involved a knife, the report said. Possession of firearms decreased to 152 in 1996-97 from 326 the year before.
A report compiling the districts’ 1997-98 figures likely will be released in January, Lombard said.