As a result, Ka Mauri faced expulsion from school. While the punishment was reduced at a hearing this week to a suspension, his family argues the case has been a grievous mistake that threatens the future of a promising young student.
“This is an injustice. It’s a systemic failure,” Chelsea Cusimano, the family’s attorney, told The Washington Post early on Friday. “They’re applying on-campus rules to these children, even though they’re learning virtually in their own homes.”
Jefferson Parish Schools, which includes Ka Mauri’s school, Woodmere Elementary, didn’t immediately respond to a message from The Post. The district declined to address his case to local media.
“We do not comment on individual student records,” Vicki Bristol, a spokeswoman for the district, told WDSU. “Regarding discipline, it is our policy that teachers and administrators may employ reasonable disciplinary and corrective measures to maintain order.”
Ka Mauri isn’t the only child to face harsh punishment for having a toy gun in a virtual learning session. A Colorado school last month called the police on a Black seventh-grader for handling a bright green “Zombie Hunter” toy gun during an online class, and a New Jersey school did the same earlier this month to a sixth-grader with a toy gun.
In Ka Mauri’s case, the problem started during a test in his social studies class on Sept. 11. Ka Mauri lives with four siblings in Harvey, La., on the south bank of the Mississippi River across from New Orleans.
According to a report from Jefferson Parish Schools shared with The Post, a Woodmere teacher saw him briefly leave the screen and then return with “what appeared to be a full-sized rifle.” He set it down, but the teacher could still see the barrel.
In fact, Ka Mauri told The Advocate, one of his younger brothers had come into the room and knocked over the toy BB gun. He bent down to pick it up, and then propped it next to his chair.
The boy, his teacher and classmates later interviewed by the school all agreed that Ka Mauri never pointed it at the camera or played with it, Cusimano said. School officials soon reached Ka Mauri’s parents by phone, who explained the weapon was an unloaded BB gun.
But school officials ruled that Ka Mauri had committed a “violation of weapons in the classroom setting."
“They are treating it as if he brought a weapon to school,” Nyron Harrison, his father, told the Advocate. “They told me he would be facing expulsion.”
At a hearing on Tuesday, a school official found that the 9-year-old was guilty of “displaying a facsimile weapon” in class, but suspended him for six days instead of expelling him.
Ka Mauri returned to class on Thursday, but Cusimano said his family isn’t done fighting the case. They argue the school district violated their privacy and that due process wasn’t followed; Cusimano said that when she asked school officials for updated rules for students learning remotely, they simply pointed to regular on-campus policies.
While the district rejected their request to appeal the disciplinary hearing, Cusimano said the family might take the matter to court. She said they worry that the disciplinary record, especially since it relates to a weapon, could hurt Ka Mauri’s chances of getting into a good high school.
School officials around the country need to assess whether their rules make sense in the new online-teaching world of the pandemic, she argued.
“They need to take 20 minutes to think about children, who are already facing an uncertain future in the middle of pandemic,” she said. “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.”