Seventh- and eighth-grade students in a woodworking class at Key Intermediate School in Springfield have been making furniture, chessboards, toys, and until last week, crossbows capable of shooting steel-tipped arrows more than 80 yards.
The crossbow production came to a halt after Norman K. Wiley of the Beverly Forest area complained to Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity that his son was almost hit by an arrow fired by one of the crossbows.
"I think it's a disaster," Herrity said yesterday after showing one of the 41 student-made crossbows to the county board. "This is probably one of the most devastating weapons I have ever seen. At one point in history it changed the course of warfare. I think we have to stop not only the crossbow but anything that could be dangerous from being made in [school] shop."
Herrity aide Robert Foreman said Fairfax School Superintendent William J. Burkholder "was shocked" when told of the project and ordered the students to stop making the bows. Burkholder also directed that letters be sent to the parents asking them to return the weapons and promising that the $30 their children paid for the crossbow kits would be refunded.
Key Intermediate Principal Harold L. Hodge said yesterday he was aware the crossbows were being made at his school, but said he could not recall if he had approved the project in advance.
After Burkholder's decision, Hodge said he telephoned all the parents, informing them that the crossbows might present more of a problem than the school originally thought and asking their return. "Most said: 'Okay, if you think it's a problem.' But a couple said: 'No. We think it's a good project and we want to keep it,' " Hodge said.
Crossbows, a weapon introduced during the middle ages and said to have been crucial during the Crusades, are illegal for hunting in Virginia, according to the state Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries. A commission spokesman said that crossbows were banned -- while bows and arrows are allowed -- because the latter are "more primitive" and give animals "a sporting chance." He said that crossbows can be much more precise and far more powerful.
The crossbows assembled at Key Intermediate were made from "self-motivating shop project" kits distributed by a Kansas company. The advertising literature, which county officials made available yesterday, states: "This Target, Varmint and Fish-shooting Crossbow Kit . . . is designed for the Jr./Sr. High School Woodshop Student. The construction of the wooden stock provides an excellent test of woodworking skills . . . . The student will be required to do precise work with as many tools as the Table Saw, Band or Jig Saw, Shaper or Router . . . . The finished crossbow is an Attractive, Functional and Fun Product!"
Hodge said "brochures were available" to any students who wanted "to take them home and discuss it with their parents." The principal said "a couple" of crossbows were made in woodworking class last year. He said he received only one complaint about the project and that was last week after the letters went out.
The Board of Supervisors praised Burkholder yesterday for his prompt action and asked the school board to check with other schools to make sure similar projects were not under way. It also asked the school board to find out why students were charged $30 for the kits after Foreman told the supervisors that the kits typically sell for less than $15. Hodge said he was not aware of the price difference and would have to look into the matter.