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We know that zero tolerance usually goes hand-in-hand with zero common sense, but this may be the worst example of that sad truth we’ve seen to date. In Prattville, AL, the parents of a 16-year-old student are furious, and speaking out after their daughter’s future was blown to pieces by her school’s Zero Tolerance Policy.

In February, the Autauga County Board of Education expelled Sara Allena “Laney” Nichols for a year – not only from Prattville High School, but from all schools in the county. She was also banned from school property and all extra-curricular activities for the same period. Her mother, Tara Herring, admits she had a water gun on campus, but questions the severity of the punishment of an otherwise exemplary student.

Laney’s parents said their daughter’s nightmare began on January 27, when a male classmate gave Laney a black squirt gun in a hallway at the end of the school day. The school’s surveillance cameras caught Laney putting the squirt gun into her backpack, later tossing it into the backseat of her vehicle as she left school property.

A fellow student saw the exchange and, not knowing it was a squirt gun, went to school authorities on January 31 to report the incident.

“The little girl who went to the office was scared to death,” Laney’s mother Tara Herring said. “She saw the boy hand Laney the gun on Friday and didn’t know the gun wasn’t real. She did what she was supposed to do, she went to the authorities. They did what they were supposed to do when they were told a gun may be in the school.”

“Laney admitted she had the gun and told them it was a water gun and in her car. She and the other boy were silly and made a mistake. But the punishment she received was completely out of line for what happened.”

Herring admits the water gun was black in color, but insists the administration should have used common sense because “the second you picked it up, you know its plastic and a toy. After the principal and school officials knew it was a water gun, things should never have progressed this far.”

Spence Agee, the school’s superintendent, has declined to comment, citing a policy forbidding comments on any disciplinary actions relating to students.

“We admit what she did was wrong. I was hoping this could be a teachable moment for her,” Herring said. “We’re not saying she should not have been punished. But she took a 10-day suspension. And then the board expelled her. We feel the expulsion is excessive.”

Excessive is an understatement. While Laney has been homeschooled since her suspension and subsequent expulsion, her parents are hoping to get her and her younger sister accepted to nearby Autauga Academy.

The family has hired an attorney to remove the expulsion from her academic records, which could negatively affect her chances to get into college.