Weapons Possessions Decline in Utah Schools

March 30, 2005
Overall weapons possession incidents down for third year in a row

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A new report by state education officials shows weapons possession incidents may be on the decline in Utah schools, but principals still confiscated more than 80 firearms carried on their campuses last year.

The survey, obtained by the Deseret Morning News, says Utah schools reported 538 incidents of weapons possession - firearms, pellet guns, explosive devices, knives and fakes - in the 2003-04 school year.

Of those, 84 incidents involved real firearms - including three handguns found in elementary schools. In all, 30 handguns, five shotguns and 49 "other firearms" incidents were reported.

While the numbers may fluctuate, officials say overall weapons possession incidents are down for the third consecutive year.

"A report such as this shows, yeah, these things are happening. But our schools are doing something," said Verne Larsen, a spokesman for the state Office of Education. "We can be observant ... we can cut it off at the pass before something does happen."

The 2002-03 school year yielded 580 reported weapons possessions; the previous year, officials marked 672, Larsen said.

This school year, a Granger High student was arrested and accused of having a "hit list." A Northridge High student allegedly brought a gun to school, and four Uintah High students were charged in an alleged school bomb plot. Last week, a girl at Canyon View High School in Cedar City was arrested after a threatening note was found.

The prohibited behaviors report, required by state and federal law, indicates such incidents have been a feature in Utah schools for years, but there is an ebb and flow.

Arson dipped from 66 in 2002-03 to 61 in 2003-04, but it's still not as low as the 49 reported in 2001-02. Other incidents, including aggravated assault, tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, however, are on the rise. Tobacco reports went from 640 incidents in 2002-03 to 695 last school year. Alcohol and drugs rose from 1,357 to 1,433, and aggravated assaults more than tripled from 92 to 317 last school year.

The reports aren't without their discrepancies.

The Utah State University online database, where principals file reports, includes five pages of definitions on what constitutes an offense. However, in some instances, there's disagreement on what terms mean.

Truancy, for example, is defined as unauthorized absence from an assigned class or activity during school hours. Schools are supposed to report "any truancy where parents are notified in writing or any other administrative action is taken."

But the numbers can be unreliable. Davis District last year reported 1,844 truancies - the most in Utah - whereas the Granite District, which is larger, reported two. Granite spokesman Randy Ripplinger called the discrepancy "a definitions difference."

The state has received a grant to provide training and enhance its online system to boost accuracy. Under reforms being considered, parents could have easier access to offense reports, which could be included in students' overall report cards, Larsen said.