Boy who twice brought airsoft guns to campus can return to Natomas school, court says

What’s the difference between BB guns and Pellet guns?

When it comes to recreational shooting, BB and Pellet guns are extremely popular. While they can be fun and great for target practice, they have different uses, sizes, and safety.
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When it comes to recreational shooting, BB and Pellet guns are extremely popular. While they can be fun and great for target practice, they have different uses, sizes, and safety.

A temporary stay on the Sacramento County Board of Education’s decision to send a student back to Heron K-8 in North Natomas was denied in court Friday morning after the student was expelled for bringing a pair of airsoft guns to campus.

Natomas Unified School District filed a petition for a writ of mandate with the Sacramento County Superior Court and sought a stay of the county school board’s decision to overturn the expulsion, citing the potential danger to campus safety if he were returned.

But Judge Laurie Earl said the district did not show that staying the board’s ruling was in the public interest, nor that the student posed a significant enough threat to grant the stay.

“Removing the student and placing him in a different school deprives him of the ability to maintain those social relationships and skills and to work with teachers who know him and have positively commented on his character and demeanor,” Earl said. “In my preliminary assessment, the board did not exceed its authority — I don’t find that the district has met its burden of proof. I find it would be against the public interest to grant the stay and effectively remove the student from the school.”

The student — who was originally to return to school this week but whose family is currently on vacation — will be immediately enrolled again at Heron K-8 unless his parents request for him not to be, Earl said.

“While it certainly is in the public interest to ensure the safety of our children and our schools, none of the evidence that the school district has presented to me indicates that the student poses any continuing danger to school safety,” she said.

Natomas Unified originally sent a message to the community that included transcripts from the 11-year-old boy’s expulsion hearing that included testimony from students, parents and staff who witnessed him showing off the airsoft guns on March 26 and 27 and leading others to believe they were real.

The orange tips of the realistic-looking guns were not shown to others, which gave a Heron K-8 principal cause for alarm.

“A parent ... ran up to me and said, ‘We need your help ... there is a student with a gun.’ She looked very scared,” the principal said during the expulsion hearing.

In a prepared statement, the Sacramento County Office of Education lauded the judge’s decision to deny the stay and lambasted the school district for what it characterized as provoking the community.

“Instead of respecting the rule of law and following the appropriate appeal process, NUSD chose to misleadingly portray the facts of this case in an irresponsible attempt to incite fear and unrest in the community,” SCOE said. “In addition, NUSD also has disrespected and violated the privacy rights of the family and student involved in the matter.”

In response, Natomas Unified called the county’s claim it had tried to provoke fear was “an astounding accusation.”

“We simply communicated the facts on an issue that was already being discussed in the Heron community by students and families,” the district said in a statement Friday. “To ignore and not address their concerns would be irresponsible and in direct conflict with our commitment to open, transparent communication with our families.”

The district said that “Although we disagree with this decision, we are obligated to follow the court order.”

The case will still move forward in court to determine whether the school board’s decision should permanently stand. An upcoming court date has not yet been set.

SCOE said in its statement that it is confident the court will rule in favor of the school board once all facts in the case come to light.

The district said, “Although we must wait and allow the legal process to work its way through, we want our families to know that we are doing everything we can to keep the Heron community safe.”

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Vincent Moleski covers business and breaking news for The Bee and is a graduate student in literature at Sacramento State. He was born and raised in Sacramento and previously wrote for the university’s student newspaper, the State Hornet.