We recently discussed the absurd case of a school sending police to the home of a 12-year-old boy in Colorado because he showed a toy gun inside his own home. Despite teaching such children virtually, the school treated the toy gun as a violation of “in school” policies. Now Ka Mauri Harrison, 9, who attends Woodmere Elementary in Harvey, has been suspended because a teacher spotted a BB gun in his room. As with the Colorado case, Louisiana school officials defended this new case of virtual insanity.
NOLA.com reported that Ka Mauri was suspended for six days after his teacher spotted a BB gun in his bedroom. He was taking a virtual class on Sept. 11 when his younger brother came bursting into the room and tripped over the BB gun. Ka Mauri was taking an English test, so he quickly grabbed the BB gun and placed it “by his side” and continued the test. When the teacher called him out, Ka Mauri did not answer because his sound was muted during the test. As a result, he was suspended for having a gun “in school.”
The Louisiana Department of Education School Behavior Report listed the incident as “possesses weapons prohibited under federal law.” Obviously, there is nothing prohibited in the possession of a bb gun, which is not even defined as a “firearm” since it is air-powered. (The term “firearm” is defined in the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. Section 921(a)(3), to include “(A) any weapon (including a starter gun), which will, or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.) It does meet the definition of a weapon or simulated weapon under most school policies. However, those policies were written for the appearance of such toys or weapons in school, not in the home where they are perfectly lawful.
Like many thousands of parents, Nyron Harrison told NOLA.com that he bought a BB gun and taught his son to use it safely. It was not loaded and Ka Mauri appears to have taken possession to keep it away from his younger brother and then continued with his test. Even if the teacher had thought it might be a firearm and appropriately called the police for the child’s safety, it was shown not to be a firearm and there was no need for this suspension.
We have been dealing with the insanity of zero tolerance rules for years. Here is a prior column on the subject (and here). Children have been suspended or expelled for drawing stick figures or wearing military hats or bringing Legos shaped like guns or even having Danish in the shape of a gun. Various criminal and disciplinary cases were opened for finger guns. Despite the public outcry over the completely irrational and abusive application of zero tolerance rules, administrators and teachers continue to apply them blindly. If you do not have to exercise judgment, you can never been blamed for any failure. Conversely, even when the public outcry results in a reversal, teachers and administrators never seem punished with the same vigor for showing no judgment or logic in punishing a child.
How is suspension in the best interest of him or the school? It is not. It is the same blind and callous application of zero tolerance rules that has been denounced for years without no apparent impact on school officials. A simple call to the parents would have sufficed to ask them to be sure that the bb gun is not displayed. Ka Mauri’s parents seem entirely responsible and responsive in these media accounts. Instead of addressing this issue with a modicum of restraint and proportionality, the interest of the child were discarded in a thoughtless and harmful bureaucratic response. There is a need for discipline in this case but it is not Ka Mauri who warrants such action.