Twice as many elementary school students suspended for gun possession

More and more elementary school students are being suspended from school because they have brought a weapon into the playground or classroom. While there were still about eight students in the 2017/2018 school year, in the most recent school year (2021/2022) at least twenty students have been sent away from the elementary school for that reason. This appears from data from the Education Inspectorate, which RTL Nieuws has requested.

Possession of knives or firearms in high school has received a lot of attention in recent years, with hundreds of incidents a year. But the fact that more and more elementary school students are now also being caught for illegal weapon possession is a new development. Primary school usually includes children up to 12 years of age. There are currently around 1.4 million children attending primary school.

Potato peeler

It is not known why these twenty children brought a weapon to primary school last school year, nor has it been made public which schools are involved. Recent research shows that most kids carry a gun to feel safer or because they find it interesting and want to be tough.

“In the past we sometimes found a potato knife with a child, it was an incident and we discussed it with the parents,” says retired primary school director Marijke van Amersfoort, who herself had to suspend a student a few years ago after a weapons incident. “Because of the street culture, it’s becoming more and more normal to have a knife because other people do too. Then you have to draw a line and suspend.”

How many suspensions in your area?

Every year, primary schools report a total of around 500 exclusions to the Danish Education Authority. The most frequently cited reasons are physical violence against fellow students, verbal violence against staff and obstruction of the learning process through disruptive behaviour. But elementary school students have also been suspended for bullying, discrimination, unwanted sexual behavior and therefore possession of weapons or drugs.

In total, at least one student has been suspended in almost 800 schools for general and special education in the past three years. The map below shows how often and in which schools this happened.

recruit

Although experts believe that in most cases elementary school children carry guns to act tough, the behavior may actually be related to crime. According to a recent study by the Center against Child Trafficking and Human Trafficking (CKM), elementary school students are also actively recruited by criminal gangs. Fourteen social workers and youth care workers who have been interviewed by CKM say they know of examples of primary school students who have been used by criminals.

For example, a project manager for youth crime states in the report that children between the ages of ten and fourteen are recruited for ‘simple crime’, such as delivering packages of drugs or being on the lookout during a drug deal.

Influence of street culture

“We see that gun ownership among younger students is increasing, albeit in small numbers, and this is cause for concern or at least for extra vigilance in primary schools,” says Amina Saydali, director of the School & Safety Foundation. This knowledge center helps schools with security issues. According to Saydali, a few elementary schools have contacted the organization for advice on gun ownership among students.

According to Saydali, gun ownership has little to do with the educational climate or the atmosphere of the schools themselves. “It’s about a street culture that has no age limits. So it occurs outside and it enters the school. Unfortunately, younger and younger young people come into contact with that street culture.”

Copying of children

Saydali suspects that the increase in gun ownership among older children is the main reason for the increase in elementary school suspensions for gun possession. “I suspect there’s a lot more of this imitation effect in elementary school. Children under twelve are a sponge of their environment, so you do what happens in your environment.”

This statement is supported by a recent study by Erasmus University. According to the young people interviewed for this, knives are now for the ‘young’ boys and people over the age of 16 are now involved in firearms.

Unruly behavior

It is very recognizable to youth worker Bram Mvambanu. In his daily work in Zeeland and West Brabant, he also sees more and more cases of small children coming into contact with weapons. “Because of social media, young people know very early on what’s going on. They’re growing up at an ever earlier age, or at least they think so.”

According to Mvambanu, it is always important to look at where children’s need to carry a gun comes from. “It’s wrong in any case, but who knows, the child is being blackmailed or there’s a stressful home situation that means that such a young guy is not under supervision.”

Great influence

According to former director Marijke van Amersfoort, it is very drastic for primary schools if children are caught with a weapon. As director of an elementary school in Amsterdam, she once experienced it.

The student in question was suspended, the teacher in that group was out of circulation for a few days because of the scare. “Pupils from Group 3 had seen the arrest which had an impact. Then a very nice local police officer visited the classroom to talk about it with the children.”

In the news

Incidents involving the possession of weapons in primary schools are regularly in the news:

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