You may recall the story of Ka’Mauri Harrison, the Louisiana elementary school student who was suspended from school last year after a teacher briefly spotted a BB gun in Harrison’s room during a virtual class session. Harrison had simply picked up the BB gun from the floor of his bedroom and put it away so that his younger brother wouldn’t trip over it, but the mere sight of the BB gun through the boy’s laptop camera was enough to cause the Jefferson Parish School District to claim that Harrison had violated the district’s weapons policy, and they barred from attending class, even online, for several weeks.
Not long afterwards, a sixth grader in the same district was suspended for basically the same reason; an accidental and brief display of a BB gun. Tomie Brown’s parents ended up suing the school district in federal court, along with Ka’Mauri’s parents, and earlier this week the Jefferson Parish School Board decided to settle the lawsuit instead of trying to defend the actions of the teacher and superintendent in court.
The board agreed to pay Harrison’s family $92,500 and Brown’s family $72,500.
In addition, the board agreed to change disciplinary records of both students to say they were suspended for disruptive conduct, removing any reference to weapons.
“The School Board and Harrison-Williams and Brown families are pleased that they were able to reach a resolution and can now refocus on the education of Jefferson Parish students in an orderly, safe and welcoming environment in both virtual and non-virtual classroom settings,” attorneys for the school board and the families said in a joint statement.
The school board was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association for the suspensions, which applied policies banning weapons at school or at school-sponsored events to children learning from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
When both the ACLU and the NRA can agree that a decision was out of line, you know there’s something crummy going on. It’s not surprising to see the school board settle, since they very well could have been forced to pay out even more if the civil suit had gone to trial. I’d say the school board got off easy, frankly. It’s not my lawsuit, and both sets of parents agreed to the settlement, but I don’t think Harrison or Brown should have been suspended in the first place, and it’s disappointing that the two kids are still going to have disciplinary records at all over what should have been a non-event.
Hopefully this type of issue won’t be a problem in the coming school year and kids can get back in the classroom. The CDC’s guidance promoting a return to the classroom is a welcome sign, and the nation’s largest teachers unions have fallen in line (at least for now), with both the NEA and ATF issuing supportive statements about the guidelines. Parents and students are going to have plenty to worry about when school begins (including what, exactly is in the curriculum), but a suspension for a BB gun in the background of a Zoom call shouldn’t be one of the things keeping them up at night.