A school in Louisiana recommended that a 4th grade boy be expelled from school because of a BB gun seen in his room during virtual learning. Yup, expelled.
We can add Ka Mauri Harrison to the growing list of boys ensnared in the ridiculous decision by schools to enforce on campus rules to students learning virtually from their homes. In this particular case, the violation involved an unloaded BB gun in his bedroom. The school district, understandably refused to comment on the specifics of Ka Mauri’s case but did say in a statement that, “regarding discipline, it is our policy that teachers and administrators may employ reasonable disciplinary and corrective measures to maintain order.”
So let’s talk about what’s reasonable.
It is reasonable for a teacher to express concern when she sees what appears to be a rifle. But the context also matters and Ka Mauri was quietly taking an English test. He had gotten up for a moment to pick up the gun after his younger brother, who was playing in his room, had tripped on it. He had leaned the gun against his chair but the teacher was still able to see barrel and grew increasingly concerned. She began to wave her hands at him but by the time he was able to unmute her, the live stream had died.
Unlike the previous cases we have covered here, the teacher in this one did call the parents and a grandparent who was listed as an emergency contact—they were able to inform school officials that the gun in question was an unloaded BB gun and not an actual rifle. Ka Mauri’s Dad, Nyron Harrison, explained to school officials that it was not an actual rifle and that he was the one who had bought it for his son. He also explained that he had taught him to use it safely and that no one had been in danger because it was unloaded.
Now comes the unreasonable part of the story.
The behavior report filed after the incident reads this way: “Ka’Mauri presented a weapon that appeared to be a rifle/shotgun during his Google Meets classroom session. This is a violation of weapons in the classroom setting and a violation of the internet usage policy. He will be recommended for expulsion as per JPPSS policy.”
We have reached a point of insanity where a 4th grade boy is facing expulsion because of an unloaded bb gun seen by a teacher in his bedroom at home. This is not to say that the teacher’s alarm was unfounded—it wasn’t, especially not since the video stream had been disconnected and she had not even been able to ask Ka Mauri about what she was seeing. But the subsequent response by the schools system is so ridiculous that it strains credulity.
At the expulsion hearing, the school decided not to expel Ka Mauri and instead hit him with a 6-day suspension and social work assessment for “displaying a facsimile weapon while receiving virtual instruction.”
If you’re head is exploding reading this, you are not alone. Even Louisiana Attorney General, Jeff Landry, announced Friday that his office is investigating. He said in a statement, “I am alarmed by what appears to not only be multiple violations of both the State and Federal Constitutions, but also blatant government overreach by the school system.” He went on, “For anyone to conclude that a student’s home is now school property because of connectivity through video conferencing is absurd…It is ludicrous for this All-American kid to be punished for taking responsible actions just as it is for his parents to be accused of neglect.” The AG gets it.
And so does the family’s attorney, Chelsea Cusimano:
They need to take 20 minutes to think about children, who are already facing an uncertain future in the middle of pandemic. This family chose to do virtual learning. What they didn’t choose is to be opened up to Jefferson Parish to look into their home and judge what happens there, such as allowing a kid to have a BB gun.Chelsea Cusimano, Attorney for the family
When a 10-year-old boy is sitting at his desk taking a test for school one moment and the next moment finds himself suspended and facing expulsion over an unloaded BB gun in his bedroom, the system has failed. Schools are going to have to stop pointing parents and attorneys to their pre-pandemic policies and start employing common sense and respect for family autonomy when it comes to their discipline policies. An outcome that would have made sense is that Ka Mauri understands why it is important that his bb gun not be anywhere near his computer screen during school hours. And perhaps they could tell him not to mute the teacher even when he thinks it will help him focus on taking a test. But the consequences he is facing (and the expulsion he could have faced) defy any sense of good judgement or smart policy.
As I wrote last week, boys are already reprimanded more quickly and punished more often when they are in school and suspended and expelled at more than four times the rate of girls from early childhood through grade 12. And Black boys, like Ka Mauri, have it worst—research shows that they are more likely to be seen as troublemakers and their misbehavior more severe than their white counterparts for exactly the same behavior.
We are failing our boys.