A tongue-in-cheek post from a Colorado teen about a trip to a shooting range got her suspended from high school.
On Oct. 11, Endeavor Academy, a public school in Centennial, Colo., suspended 17-year-old senior Alexandria Keyes for five days after she posted a picture of herself and her older brother on the social media app Snapchat. The two are shown holding guns and the photo is captioned, "Me and my legal guardian are going to the gun range to practice gun safety and responsible gun ownership while getting better so we can protect ourselves while also using the First Amendment to practice our Second Amendment."
The picture in question depicts Alexandria and her older brother, an Army veteran, wearing shemaghs (scarves popular in Middle Eastern cultures that are also used by some members of the military) posing in front of a Confederate flag and flipping off the camera while holding guns. In a statement to The Gun Writer, Kelley Moyer, Alexandria's mother, said that the shemagh her daughter wore was a gift from her brother.
Alexandria tells Reason that she never anticipated being suspended for taking the picture.
"Guns are huge in my family, they're normal to us," Alexandria said. It was a big surprise to her and her mother when police showed up at their house to investigate her as a potential threat.
Abbe Smith, Chief Communications Officer for Cherry Creek School District, told me that the decision to suspend Keyes "involved multiple social media posts that concerned the school community and resulted in multiple parents keeping their kids home from school out of concern for safety." Smith said that federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protections prevent her from discussing the details of the case, including disclosing the other photos the district allegedly considered in Keyes' suspension.
Keyes and her mother believe the other posts the district references are a picture and video of Alexandria shooting at Centennial Gun Club that she had posted on Facebook and Snapchat about 8 months ago.
Endeavor Academy's student handbook for the 2019-2020 school year gives the school broad discretionary power when choosing to suspend students for weapon-related instances. The handbook states that when a student's behavior involving a weapon off school property is thought to "[have] a reasonable connection to school or any district curricular or non-curricular event" and is "detrimental to the safety and welfare of the student, other students and school personnel," that the school may refer a student for "appropriate disciplinary proceedings."
The school's policy references Colorado law, which defines the grounds for suspension as "behavior on or off school property that is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other pupils or of school personnel, including behavior that creates a threat of physical harm to the child or to other children."
Why would a picture of a student legally visiting a gun range and practicing her marksmanship fall into this category? According to Cherry Creek School Board policy, the school district reserves the right to suspend students who "[repeatedly interfere] with a school's ability to provide educational opportunities to other students." Over the phone, Smith noted that since multiple parents kept their children home after becoming aware of the post, Keyes' photo could be viewed as an impediment to the school's ability to educate, even if the district didn't ultimately make its decision based on the chances that Keyes posed a physical threat. Does this mean parental fears can be a mechanism for the school district to veto a teen's extracurricular activities?
Keyes does not have a history of causing educational disruptions at the school, according to her family. Moyer told me that her daughter was disciplined for violating school policy only once before when she brought vape paraphernalia to school.
Moyer also says that Endeavor Academy's principal, Caroll Duran, explicitly told her that her daughter did not violate any policies but that "when [they] see pictures of a 17-year-old holding an assault rifle it sends panic through [their] building." In actuality, Alexandria was holding a pistol, not an "assault" rifle, in the photo of her and her brother (and was exercising excellent trigger discipline for that matter).
Moyer also contacted the Aurora and Arapahoe Police Departments about her daughter's suspension, and both agencies told her that Keyes did not violate any laws by posting the photo.
Keyes' experience reflects just one of many instances of schools overreacting to fears of gun violence even when there's no evidence of a threat. Reason's Robby Soave reported on the arrest of a 12-year-old in Kansas City after she pointed finger guns at other students just last week. That child now faces a felony charge of threatening to commit violence. Soave noted that school authority figures "clearly have the Parkland shootings in their minds as they overreact to mundane disciplinary issues involving students." Overland Police Chief Frank Donchez told The Kansas City Star that he'd "take the heat all day long for arresting a -year-old" since he's "not willing to take the heat for not preventing a school tragedy."
For students caught up in administrators' hysteria, the impacts of poorly applied disciplinary policies have lasting impacts on a student's future. Keyes doesn't face any legal repercussions for her photo, but the suspension will go on her record and got her kicked off the school's volleyball team. She told Reason that "college is definitely on [her] mind" since "[she] want[s] to go to med school" and that she's afraid that all the drama and rumors surrounding the event will reflect negatively on her in the admissions process.
Keyes can return to school tomorrow, but her mother says that her daughter is "terrified to go back because she is getting death threats, hate mail, and [negative] comments on her [S]napchat."