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Virginia middle schoolers suspended for the year after toy pellet gun incident

A selection of Airsoft guns. The popular pellet guns look remarkably like lethal weapons.Steve Pope / ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Virginia middle school has suspended as many as three students for the remainder of the academic year after they were seen shooting a toy pellet gun near a school bus stop earlier this month.

Virginia Beach's Larkspur Middle School principal was contacted by local police on Sept. 12, who had received a 911 call expressing concern that some kids were "shooting a gun near the Larkspur Middle School bus stop" while waiting for the school bus, said Eileen Cox, director of communications and community engagement for Virginia Beach city public schools.

Citing student education laws, Cox could not confirm how many students were involved in the incident, which took place on private property. According to Virginia news source WAVY.com, three Virginia Beach seventh graders have been disciplined as a result. 

"It was unclear whether the gun was a toy gun or an actual firearm," she said. "The school principal in conjunction with the police looked into the matter primarily because of the safety for students walking to and at the bus stop and also because we needed to determine whether a gun of any kind, whether a toy or otherwise, was on the school bus or made its way to school." 

After an investigation, the principal determined it was an Airsoft gun — an air-powered, toy replica firearm — and that the gun's pellets had struck other students near the bus stop.

"One actually said he dropped his book bag and ran and still got hit," Cox said. "They were suspended and recommended for expulsion."

Khalid Caraballo holds an airsoft gun.WAVY

In a unanimous decision Tuesday, the three-member Virginia Beach school board did not go as far as to expel the students, but they did suspend them for the remainder of the school year.

"This was a measured response to a threat to student safety. A school principal took firm steps to ensure weapons didn’t make their way into his school and that children didn’t have to endure being shot at with a pellet gun as they walked to their bus stop," Daniel D. Edwards, chairman of the Virginia Beach school board, said in a statement.

"It is important to note that the students in question were witnessed taking aim at other students, not just from private property but in the streets of their neighborhood as well — all while awaiting the arrival of their school bus."

"This is not an example of a public educator overreaching. This was not zero tolerance at all," he added.

A hearing will be held in January to evaluate whether the students can return to school mid-year.

Cox said the parents of one of the students who was disciplined, Khalid Caraballo, 13, signed a waiver giving the school district permission to discuss her son. Khalid has been disciplined six times in less than 18 months for "increasingly aggressive behavior" including harassment, bullying and fighting that has caused injuries, she said.

Khalid has been allowed to enroll in an alternative school within the district in the meantime, Cox said. She couldn't comment on what the other students are doing for schooling.

Khalid's mother told WAVY.com she thought the school board had no right to suspend her son when he was on private property.

"He does not become the school's property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school," she said.

Larkspur Middle School Principal Matthew Delaney stood by the school board's decision.

"As the principal of Larkspur Middle School, I am responsible for the safety of students and will take all appropriate actions to ensure that the students using the pellet guns are appropriately disciplined and held responsible for their conduct. It is my sincere hope that they will learn important life lessons; the most important being that there will be consequences when they do things that can result in harm to another person," he said in a statement.