By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Two Virginia Beach students have been suspended for a year for firing pellet guns at fellow students, prompting debate over school safety and whether their punishment was appropriate.
The two seventh-grade boys fired pellet guns on September 12 from one of the boys' front yard, hitting several students near a middle school bus stop.
The fired pellets were of sufficient force to cause welts on students who were struck, school officials said.
The two boys, both 13, were suspended for a year on Tuesday after a disciplinary hearing. They have been placed in an alternative school, and a hearing in January may decide whether they can be readmitted to regular classes, a school spokeswoman said.
A parent of one of the students said the boys were firing the pellet guns on private property and should never have been disciplined by the school system.
But Eileen Cox, a spokeswoman for the 68,000-student Virginia Beach, Virginia, school system, said it has responsibility for students' safety to and from school.
School officials said one of the boys had been disciplined six times over the past 18 months for bullying, harassment and fighting that caused injuries.
Matthew Delaney, principal of Larkspur Middle School, said in a written statement that he hoped the suspended students would learn that "there will be consequences when they do things that can result in harm to another person."
The school system's Facebook page has been filled with comments for and against the suspensions, with some questioning whether students on private property should be punished by the schools.
(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Beech)