At Annapolis Middle, Dennehy said three weapons were confiscated this year -- a BB gun, a knife and a "look-alike" fake gun. The three students involved were expelled, and two appealed, asking to be readmitted.
One is now at a county school for students with behavior problems, but the other -- the student who brought the BB gun -- is back at Annapolis Middle, only 2 1/2 months after his expulsion.
County policy on school discipline doesn't explicitly deal with weapons or fighting, but lists six types of behavior that could resultin suspension or expulsion, including behavior that "disrupts the program of instruction" or "threatens the health, safety or welfare of others."
The school system defers to state law, which makes carrying a deadly weapon on school property a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or three years in jail. Principals said, however, that students are rarely prosecuted.
Acting Superintendent C. Berry Carter II said the expulsion policy is tough enough.
"We have to balance what's best for the youngster against the welfare of the rest of the system," Carter said. "If there's any doubt, we're going to opt for the preservation of the system.
"If a student brings an operable, real gun into school . . . the student probably will not return."
Many teachers and principals said the county should developa new alterative school for the most disruptive students. The countyoperates one such school, the Learning Center in Annapolis. But parents and teachers complain that the center accepts students only to age 16.
As a result, older students, who teachers say are often the most dangerous, frequently return to the school system even after a couple of expulsions. And transferring the students doesn't help, saidPaolino.
"It just shifts the problem elsewhere," he said. "At some point, you have to say, 'You've had your chance. That's it. You have to get your education elsewhere.' "
Carter said the school system has asked the county to build an alternative school for 17- to 20-years-olds for more than 10 years. But given current state and county budget woes, Carter said it is unlikely the school system will get the money.
Meanwhile, teachers, administrators and other students are left to deal with disruptive students.
"These kids get pushed back in our faces," said Annapolis Middle Principal Dennehy. "We just have to do the best we can."
"My reaction to all this is sadness, just deep sadness," said Smithers. "These young people are involved with violence instead of embracing the fascinating world around them. Ionly hope we reach enough of them before it's too late."