Zero Tolerance

Louisiana School Threatens 9-Year-Old Boy with Expulsion for Having BB Gun During Virtual Class

"They’re applying on-campus rules to these children, even though they’re learning virtually in their own homes."

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Ka Mauri Harrison is a nine-year-old boy in Harvey, Louisiana. Earlier this month, he was taking a social studies test—during a virtual classroom session—when one of his younger siblings entered the room and knocked over an unloaded toy BB gun. Harrison picked up the fake weapon, which made it briefly visible on screen.

Readers can probably guess what happened next: The district, Jefferson Pariah Schools, threatened Harrison with expulsion for having a lookalike weapon in class—as if his home is now an extension of the school. The Washington Post reports that the expulsion was later reduced to a six-day suspension .

"This is an injustice. It's a systemic failure," Chelsea Cusimano, the family's attorney, declared in a statement. "They're applying on-campus rules to these children, even though they're learning virtually in their own homes."

Schools have doled out similarly harsh punishments to other students who inadvertently violated policies that don't make any sense when applied to at-home instruction. Inflexibly taking a rules-are-rules approach to school discipline makes even less sense now than it did when kids were actually going to school. Dealing with Zoom-based learning is difficult enough; kids and parents shouldn't have to worry about what might appear in the background. It's an extra penalty on families that have more kids to deal with or less access to stress-reducing resources.

Note also the difficulty that Harrison's teacher had when she wanted to talk to him about the toy gun. She waved at him to get his attention, but he had the computer on mute because he was taking a test. By the time he could unmute, the video feed cut out. These are the struggles and impracticalities that thousands of children all over the country are dealing with—even in districts where the COVID-19 infection rates are low and in-person instruction could probably resume safely.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has taken an interest in Harrison's case and the broader issue of "blatant government overreach by the school system."

"I have begun investigating this matter and plan to take action in defense of this young man and his family and all families who could suffer the same invasion of their homes and constitutional rights," Landry announced.

That's good news. School districts need crystal-clear instructions from state authorities that they should not make life even more difficult for kids like Harrison.

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