The two students insisted they meant no harm when they bought souvenir swords during a spring break choir trip to Britain.

But their purchases -- a Lord of the Rings replica sword and a set of three samurai blades -- ended with expulsion, leaving their parents to contend that the punishment is too severe.

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school board kicked both students out of school for the rest of the year after trip chaperones found the swords, taped up for shipping back to the United States, last month.

The students, a sophomore at Eagan High School and an 18-year-old senior at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, were put on a plane and sent home early.

"We think it's incredibly unfair," said Jackie Fischbach, an Eagan resident who said her daughter bought the replica sword in York, England, as a Father's Day gift. "I do understand that they need to have rules and policies, but I think it's incredibly excessive for what she did."

"The situation involving my child could have happened to yours," said Brad Briggs, of Eagan, father of the sophomore. In an emotional statement to the school board, Briggs said his son is a Boy Scout and active in Sunday school.

Prompted by school shootings and parents worried about their children's safety, school districts have adopted strict weapons policies, said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

"What that has done is kept the schools pretty darn weapon-free," he said. "The problem is, on occasion, a kid -- either not thinking clearly, probably because they're kids, or not realizing they're doing something wrong -- brings something to school that is interpreted as a weapon."

Tough rules can mean tough decisions for administrators who are forced to choose between expelling students who mean no harm or risking accusations of favoritism, he said.

Kyte, a former superintendent in Northfield, said he once dealt with a fourth-grade boy from an Asian immigrant family who showed up at school with an ornate knife for show-and-tell. Kyte suspended him.

It's largely up to school districts to set policies for weapons incidents, Kyte said. Some adopt zero-tolerance rules and others allow more leeway.

School district spokesman Tony Taschner would not discuss the expulsions because of student privacy laws, but said the district considers weapons incidents on a case-by-case basis. "It's not a zero-tolerance policy," he said.

At the April 14 school board meeting at which one of the students was expelled, Chairman Mike Roseen said the policy was fair.

Both students are completing their course work with an assigned teacher's help, Fischbach said. Her daughter plans to attend a Wisconsin college next year, she said, while the Eagan sophomore will be allowed back at school in the fall.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016