Since the closure of many public schools over COVID-19 concerns back in March, we’ve reported on several incidents where kids have been punished by their local schools and in some cases law enforcement after they were spotted with a toy gun or a BB gun in their homes during online classes. In Louisiana, the case of Ka’Mauri Harrison has received so much attention that lawmakers have approved a bill that would guarantee students like Harrison have the ability to appeal any disciplinary measures from their school district, and though the bill has yet to be signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, it’s already having an impact on cases around the state.
WDSU-TV in Baton Rouge reports that, with the help of attorney Chelsea Cusimano (who’s also representing Harrison and his family in litigation against the Jefferson Parish schools), another elementary school student who was facing serious consequences after a teacher spotted a BB gun during an online class session has now been cleared of all charges and can return to school.
According to a school incident report reviewed by WDSU, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System reported 11-year-old Rondell Coleman to the Sheriff’s Department Sept. 18 when a gun was seen in his bedroom during a virtual class. The incident report said Rondell “was brandishing a gun on camera.” According to the report, the deputy went to the child’s home, was allowed inside and brought a BB gun back to the school. “It (the BB gun) was confiscated and Rondell was charged,” the report says.
Evette Coleman said her grandson was traumatized. “This is a BB gun,” Coleman said. “You’re going to come and read a kid rights because he has a BB gun?”
She said her daughter-in-law was also read her Miranda rights and was interrogated with her son.
“I don’t know if they’re confused that we’re not on campus,” Coleman said. “We’re in our home. We are in our private home.”
Coleman contacted Cusimano, who reached out to state officials, and eventually Solicitor General Liz Murrill got involved in helping Rondell Coleman. After she reached out to authorities in the East Baton Rouge school district, charges against Rondell Coleman were dropped and the 4th grader was allowed to return to his regular school after being forced to attend classes in an alternative school for several weeks.
“I was very disturbed when I found that the child was cooling his heels in alternative school, and I was worried for the child, but they did react very quickly when they found out … something had fallen through the cracks,” Murrill said. “I give them credit for reacting and for acting and for acknowledging that they had not updated their policies and done the right thing.”
Coleman said her grandson is back at his elementary school but is quiet and reserved. “He doesn’t understand what he did wrong,” she said.
Murrill said Jefferson Parish Public Schools is the only district in the state that her office is aware of that has not reversed virtual school violations involving BB guns seen in students’ homes. She said her office will advocate for the students and families affected until their school records are wiped clean.
As Evette Coleman pointed out, school districts are literally viewing private homes as an extension of the classroom, which is bound to cause problems for students and staff alike. For students, they risk disciplinary action or even criminal charges for “displaying a weapon on school grounds,” while the school districts face the possibility of lawsuits over the heavy-handed response to the sight of a toy gun in a private home.
The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act should cut down on the abuses by school districts in Louisiana, but the issue isn’t confined to just one state. Similar abuses have been seen in states from Maryland to Colorado, and ultimately it’s up to parents everywhere to ensure that their local school districts don’t have similar policies in place that would allow them to punish kids for simply being kids in their own home.