The Gun-Free Schools Act (GFSA) states that each state receiving federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) must have a state law that requires all local educational agencies (LEAs) in the state to expel from school for at least one year any student found bringing a firearm to school. (See Appendix A for a copy of the GFSA.) State laws must also authorize the LEA chief administering officer to modify any such expulsion on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the GFSA states that it must be construed to be consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The GFSA requires states to report information about the implementation of the act annually to the Secretary of Education. In order to meet this requirement and to monitor compliance with the GFSA, the Department of Education (the Department) requires each state (1) to submit an annual report that provides:
Two additional items regarding specific LEA compliance with the GFSA were reported but are not included in this report.
Westat, under contract to the Department, collected the data from each state department of education. In order to ensure that the data are reported accurately, the following procedures were followed:
Following information on data interpretation and quality, this report is divided into three sections and summarizes the 1997-98 data submitted by the states. The first section is a brief summary of the overall findings. The second section presents a summary of the 1997-98 data in bulleted, graphic, and tabular form as well as a comparison between the 1997-98 and 1996-97 data. The tables in this section contain data notes that are critical to the correct interpretation of the data. The third section presents a page for each state. Each page contains the data submitted by the state, as well as any caveats or data notes accompanying the data. Finally, there are two appendices to the report - Appendix A contains a copy of the Gun-Free Schools Act and a copy of the 1997-98 GFSA state data collection instrument can be found in Appendix B.
All of the information contained in this report should be interpreted with caution. First, as noted on the summary state tables and on the individual state pages, some states attached caveats and data notes to their data that should be considered when interpreting the data. This is of particular importance when examining national totals, as they are made up of data that are not necessarily comparable from state to state in all cases. Second, some states submitted aggregate data that were not broken out by school level and/or type of weapon. The expulsions for these states are included in the overall summary totals but are not included in the figures by type of firearm or school level. This means that the total number of reported expulsions differs for each questionnaire item summarized in this report.
The 1997-98 information shown in this report represents a significant improvement over the data submitted by the states for 1996-97 or 1995-96. We expect that the quality of the data submitted under the GFSA will continue to improve, and the Department will work to assist the states in their data reporting to ensure this improvement.
Finally, this report is not designed to provide information to the reader regarding the rate at which students carry firearms to school. The data reported by the states concern disciplinary actions only.
Overall, all 56 states provided data on the number of students expelled for bringing a firearm to school, for a total of 3,930 expulsions. California and Texas were the only states with greater than 300 expulsions, and Wyoming, American Samoa, Guam, and Northern Marianas reported that they had none during the 1997-98 school year. When viewed as the number of expulsions per 1,000 enrolled students, Delaware, Oregon, and South Dakota had the highest number of expulsions per 1,000 students. Refer to Table 1 for more detailed information on the data provided by the individual states and the appropriate data caveats.
Fifty-three states provided data on their expulsions by school level. Almost 90 percent of all reported expulsions were reported by school level (3,499 of 3,930).
Of these 3,499 expulsions, over half (1,998 or 57 percent) were students in senior high schools, 33 percent (1,162) were students in junior high, and 10 percent (339) were elementary school students. Note that the percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding (See Figure 1 and Table 2)
Fifty-two states provided data that differentiated the type of firearm brought to school by students. Almost 90 percent of all reported expulsions were reported by type of firearm (3,507 of 3,930).
Of these 3,507 expulsions, 62 percent (2,167) involved handguns, 7 percent (232) involved rifles or shotguns, and the remaining 32 percent (1,108) involved other types of firearms (such as bombs, grenades, starter pistols, and rockets). Note that the percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. (See Figure 2 and Table 3).
All but one state submitted data for both 1996-97 and 1997-98. However, in several of these states, the data are not comparable from across the two years primarily because of changes in reporting. In addition, two states, Colorado and North Carolina, revised the data they submitted for 1996-97. As a result, the total number of expulsions reported for 1996-97 differs from previously reported figures.
Among the 55 states which submitted data for both years, the number of students expelled for bringing a firearm to school decreased by 31 percent from 5,724 to 3,930. (See the notes on Table 4 for further information on year-to-year comparability for individual states.)
In discussions with the states, there are two major reasons for this decrease. First, many states indicated that the data reported for 1997-98 were more accurate. In six states (Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah), the data submitted prior to 1997-98 included all school crime incidents and/or expulsions for all weapons, rather than just firearms. These reporting irregularities resulted in an overstatement of the number of expulsions under the GFSA for 1996-97. Second, several states reported that they felt that students were getting the message that they were not to bring firearms to school and that, as a result, fewer students were expelled for this offense. See Table 4 for state-by-state information. Pay particular attention to the data caveats that provide additional information regarding changes from 1996-97 to 1997-98.
The GFSA allows the LEA chief administering officer to modify any expulsion for firearm violations on a case-by-case basis (for example, by shortening the expulsion to less than one year). The purpose of this provision is to allow the chief administering officer in a school district to take unique circumstances into account as well as to ensure that the IDEA and GFS requirements are implemented consistently. In order to capture these modifications, states were asked to report the number of students who had their period of expulsion shortened, as well as the number of these cases that were not for students with disabilities.
Forty-nine states reported the number of students whose expulsions were shortened to less than one year as part of the case-by-case review process.
Of the 3,399 expulsions in these states, 1,485 (or 44 percent) were shortened to less than one year. Note that the percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. (See Figure 3 and Table 5)
Forty-eight states reported on the disability status of the students with shortened expulsions. Among these 48 states, the overall number of shortened expulsions was 1,459 (compared to 1,485 for the 49 states shown on Table 5).
Of these 1,459 students, 909 (62 percent) were not considered disabled under section 602(a)(1) of IDEA. Note that the percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. (See Figure 4 and Table 6)
The GFSA has in place provisions that allow local officials to refer expelled students to an alternative school or program. Forty-eight states reported information for this data item, and among these states 1,433 students (43 percent) were referred for an alternative placement. Note that the percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. (See Figure 5 and Table 7)
(1) For the remainder of this report, the term "states" refers to all 56 jurisdictions (states and territories) covered under the Gun-Free Schools Act.
(2) See Appendices A and B for a detailed definition of firearm.