U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley announced Oct. 3 that fewer students are being expelled for bringing firearms to school—3,523 students during the 1998-99 school year, compared to 3,658 in the year before. The most recent figure is a significant decrease from three years ago, when the first report listed 5,724 expulsions.

The new findings are published in the “Report of State Implementation of the Gun-Free Schools Act—School Year 1998-99: Final Report 2000.”

“When young people don’t act responsibly, we must move decisively to protect others,” Riley said. “The Gun-Free Schools Act has helped improve school safety by making sure that students understand the serious consequences—expulsion—of bringing a gun to school. While the trend is moving in the right direction, it is very disturbing that we still have more than 3,500 young people bringing firearms to school.”

The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 required states to pass laws forcing school districts to expel any student who brings a firearm to school. All states have complied, and this report is the third state-by-state look at implementation of the federal law.

The majority of the expulsions—59 percent—were for handguns brought to school. Twelve percent were for rifles or shotguns, and 29 percent were for bombs, grenades, or starter pistols. Most expulsions—57 percent—were in high schools, 33 percent were in junior highs and, like the previous year, 10 percent were in elementary schools.

States must submit annual reports on the number of students expelled by firearm type and school level, the number of expulsions that were modified, how many of those cases were not for students with disabilities, and the number of expelled students who were referred to alternative programs. The report includes state-by-state data for these categories; however, not all states and territories submitted data for each category.

Riley said the findings contained in the report should be interpreted with caution, as some states submitted data on all weapons, not just firearms, while others submitted aggregate data not broken out by school level and/or type of weapon. He said data collection has improved since implementation of the law, but the quality of data on expulsions varies widely from state to state.

The Gun-Free Schools Act is authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as amended in 1994. The report is available online at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/SDFS/news.html.