Student allowed back in school after suspension over shotgun

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CARTHAGE, Mo. (AP) — An 18-year-old southwest Missouri high school senior will get to play baseball, go to prom and graduate with his class after being reinstated following seven days of suspension for bringing a shotgun onto school property.

Sawyer Shepherd, an avid hunter who is only weeks away from graduating from Carthage High School, forgot last week to remove his disassembled, cased shotgun from his pickup truck before going to school, the Carthage Press ( reported.

He was immediately suspended April 21 after school officials, responding to an anonymous tip, asked Sawyer if he had a gun in his truck. The teen responded that he didn't remember if he had removed the shotgun he had used to hunt turkeys that morning.

He went with a principal to the parking lot, where the gun was found beneath the front seat of his vehicle. A police officer who was called to the scene determined Sawyer had broken no laws and declined to charge him with anything.

The incident forced school administrators to scramble to find a fair way to punish the teen without setting a bad precedent or violating school board policy, which gives the superintendent leeway to shorten suspensions on a case-by-case basis.

The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act includes an exception for unloaded firearms that are in a locked container, including a vehicle. Missouri's Safe Schools Act — upon which the Carthage policy is crafted — does not.

Missouri state Rep. Mike Kelly, a Lamar Republican, indicated he would push to have Missouri's law correspond more closely to the federal version, said Judd McPherson, a Joplin attorney representing Sawyer.

The teen's "saving grace" was that the high school handbook does not include the same language as the school board's policy and does not establish any specific penalties for gun violations, McPherson said.


Information from: Carthage Press ,

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