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PARK CITY MAY TIGHTEN WEAPON POLICY

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Park City School District may toughen up its already harsh and controversial policy against students who bring weapons to class, the district superintendent says.

If the board approves a tougher, so-called "zero tolerance" standard, a student caught with a gun or knife of specific length will be automatically expelled for the school year, Superintendent Don Fielder said.State officials said it would be the most strict weapons policy of any district in the state.

Under the current policy, expulsion is just one option a Park City public school can consider in disciplining a violator.

That option was imposed earlier this year against a 12-year-old boy who brought a rusted, triggerless gun to Treasure Mountain Middle School, so his parents filed a lawsuit against the district.

About the same time, parents of three other children expelled under a new "zero tolerance" drug policy also sued the district to get their children back in school.

The legal action outraged other parents and educators statewide. They donated money to help the district defray costs of defending the policy, which many residents believed would ensure safety in the schools and nip any gang and violence problems in the bud.

But 3rd District Judge David Young found the new policies were not adequately publicized. He ordered school administrators to re-enroll the children pending a final outcome in the cases. The rulings didn't arrive until after the school year was out.

Although he ruled this summer that the weapons case was moot, Young told the district from the bench that an inoperable antique gun wasn't a weapon under the district's policy. He added that the district should provide alternative avenues for expelled students.

But Fielder brushes aside Young's comments and those of others who believe the district should be more tolerant of troubled youth and try to help them rather than banish them to the streets.

"The schools are not obligated to help a troubled student with drugs and gang problems. That's the parent's responsibility," Fielder said. "We must guarantee that schools are drug free and safe places to be."

He described school as "a special place," and anyone who poses a danger to the students "doesn't have a right to be there."

Fielder considered Young's moot ruling a victory because it didn't order any changes in policy. However, the district is complying with a new state law that obligates a school to at least advise an expelled student's parents of alternative education resources.

"We won't provide the alternatives," Fielder said. "The tendency is not to provide alternatives at the expense of the public."