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— Two Gentry students were expelled from school by action of the school board at a special meeting on Monday because of a role the students are alleged to have played in the 911 calls reporting a bomb at the Gentry Middle School.

A third student arrested by police and a fourth student identified by police as “a person of interest” were not included in the board’s action.

The two students, eighth and ninth grade boys, will not be able to return to classes in Gentry Schools until the fall of 2010, according to the board’s action.

“These are two young men that we believe acted in concert in calling 911 and saying there was a bomb at the Middle School,” Gentry Schools superintendent Dr. Randy Barrett said Monday night.

Barrett explained that the two boys were seen on school bus video with the cell phone when the 911 calls were placed. He said school officials did not think a third student was involved.

“We can’t make this decision based on the success or failure of the police case,” Barrett said. “We are a separate entity — a public school. We don’t have the same burden of proof (as the police),” he said.

“I’m not saying (these students) intended to commit a criminal act,” Barrett said. “They may have thought it was a lark. They may have thought it was a joke. They may have thought school would be canceled and they’d get an extra day out of school. It was not a joke ... As superintendent of schools, it’s very important to take a clear stand for all the schools. This caused a major disruption for parents and students and countless man-hours for police. If you play that game, we take it seriously,” he said.

A mother and stepfather of one of the boys addressed the board, saying that their son was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His voice is not on the 911 calls, they said. Both asked the board not to expel their son, or at least to reinstate him should he be found not guilty in the criminal case.

“I did not hear his voice on the tape,” his mother said. “He is a good student ... He is being punished. He’s devastated. He was held ... in the juvenile detention center. He’s been out of school 10 days. It won’t benefit him in any way if he is totally kicked out,” she said, adding that he needs to be in school and not out on the streets while she is at work.

“I’d like to see him stay in school. It’s best for him,” the boy’s stepfather said.

No one appeared before the board on behalf of the second student expelled at the hearing.

The expulsion hearing is the result of 911 calls received from a cell phone on Sept. 24 which included threats of a possible bomb at the Gentry Middle School on Sept. 25.

Four to five 911 calls from cell phones came in on the afternoon of Sept. 24 saying a bomb would go off at a Gentry school, according to Gentry Police Chief Keith Smith. The last caller, according to Smith, said he saw a note indicating a bomb would go off on Sept. 25 at the Gentry Middle School. The callers, according to Smith, sounded like teenage boys.

School was not canceled, but police brought in bomb-sniffing dogs and searched the school before students arrived Sept. 25. No bomb or evidence of a bomb was found.

Three juveniles were arrested later on Sept. 25 in connection with the bomb threats, and a fourth juvenile was being called “a person of interest,” according to Gentry police.

The three Gentry students were identified, according to a press release, through a Gentry school bus camera system, 911 recordings and other evidence. A cell phone used in the crimes was also recovered. The three boys arrested were transported to the Benton County Juvenile Detention Center, where they were held on charges of terrorist threatening and tampering with physical evidence, both Class D felonies, according to a release.

Through multiple interviews, police learned that the boys made the plan while at school on Sept. 23. One of the boys brought the cell phone to school the next day so they could carry out the plan, a police press release said.

Evidence indicates all three juveniles were involved in the crimes, the release stated. At the time, police believed a fourth student was also involved and called the student a person of interest, according to the release.

After the hearing, the school board went into a brief executive session to discuss the recommended expulsions. After returning to open session, the board voted 6-0 in favor of the two expulsions. Voting in favor were board members Jim Barnes, Coye Cripps, Dani Cypert, Le’Ann Watanabe, Brenda Willett and David Williamson. Board member Ted Dorn was absent for the special meeting.

News, Pages 1 on 10/14/2009

Print Headline: Board expels students for 911 bomb prank

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