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Graves: Gun in car would mean expulsion

Mitchell High School students head to their cars after school Tuesday afternoon. (Laura Wehde/Republic Photo)

If a Mitchell School District student accidentally forgets an unloaded shotgun in a vehicle that's parked on campus, the student likely will be expelled from school for a year, Superintendent Joe Graves said Tuesday.

That scenario happened recently in Sioux Falls and last month, the Sioux Falls school board announced the one-year expulsion of the Washington High School student.

"Federal law requires us to expel students for firearms violations, but we may use discretion for specific cases," said Graves. "Just being forgetful doesn't work."

After the discovery of the weapon in the student's trunk, the Sioux Falls school board voted in executive session to expel the student until Nov. 19, 2010. Minutes from the meeting were recently made public, and Kent Alberty, school board president, said the group had no choice but to expel the student since federal and state law requires expulsion for any student found with a firearm on campus.

The gun was discovered by the school's resource officer. No ammunition was found in the vehicle.

Graves said it's been years since any student has been found with a gun on a Mitchell school campus. Although he wasn't familiar with the specifics of the Sioux Falls incident, he believes the Mitchell school board likely would act similarly.

"We're more likely to suspend for the year," Graves said.

State law states that administrators may use discretion for specific cases, Graves said.

Hypothetically, a student who purchased a used car that contained a firearm would not receive expulsion, Graves said, but someone who simply forgot to remove a gun from his vehicle -- even after a hunting trip -- likely would receive the full punishment.

Knives are also banned from campus, but more discretion can be used in knife incidents, Graves said.

If a student accidentally left a pocketknife in a vehicle, it would be unlikely that expulsion would follow, unless intent to do harm with the knife was detected.

"The students have no reason to have a knife on the premises," Graves said. "If we believed they had intent, that would be expulsion."

Graves acknowledged the number of students who hunt in the area and cautioned hunters to make sure their weapons don't end up on school grounds.

"The truth is, we try to take a very hard line on it. Hunting is obviously a great sport here in South Dakota, but you need to take good care of your weapon," Graves said. "You need to make sure it doesn't appear on school grounds."

As for parents who have firearms in their vehicles and drive on school grounds, Graves said they are in violation of school district policy. Late Tuesday afternoon, Graves did not specifically know the legal ramifications of such an act.

He said that in his years in Mitchell, there has never been such a case.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.