Dubuque Senior student who brought handgun to school facing expulsion

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- It's likely a Dubuque Senior High School student will be expelled for up to one year after police found a gun in his bookbag, and it's a decision Superintendent Stan Rheingans said is hard to face.

Dubuque Senior High School saw a heavy police presence on Monday, Sept. 24 after an unloaded handgun was found inside a student's locker. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

17-year-old Jason Gardner is charged as an adult with Carrying Weapons on School Grounds, a Class D Felony that's punishable by up to five years in prison.

A school resource officer found a gun in his backpack unloaded and with no ammunition on Monday. According to the criminal complaint, Gardner said he found the gun at the bus stop near Senior.

Gardner appeared in court via video call in Dubuque on Monday morning. Judge Robert Richter set his bond at $5,000 cash and told him he's not allowed to have any contact with Senior throughout court proceedings.

Rheingans said in a situation like this one, they'll protect all of the schools.

"At this point they are removed from the school environment, no trespass order and those types of things, so we would not allow them on any of our school premises at this point," Rheingans said.

Students who are suspended or held in jail can typically receive schooling from Keystone Area Education Agency, according to Rheingans.

In Gardner's case, he's facing expulsion. Iowa Code states students who bring a firearm to school are to be expelled for one calendar year, unless an administrator decides otherwise.

"If the proving of the handgun and the expulsion takes place, then they don't receive that educational experience from any entity including the AEA," Rheingans explained.

Rheingans said that's difficult to see happen.

"That's the hard thing," he said. "We don't ever want to give up on a student. But I have to think, as a superintendent, about the other 11,000 students."

Dubuque Police Lieutenant Joe Messerich said the department typically handles students through the juvenile court system which allows the department to check up on them from time to time.

Messerich said, "we try to do evaluations of the home. Are there any access to weapons? Gauge the cooperation level of the parents, that type of thing, so we know when the juvenile is back in the community that everybody is going to be safe."

However, with Gardner being tried as an adult, things are different.

"Instead of working with juvenile court services from the onset we then shift gears and we're working with the county attorney's office, who's going to handle the prosecution as an adult," Messerich explained.

Gardner's next hearing is scheduled for October 4th.