Town of Talks

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The family of a fourth-grade boy is suing a New Orleans-area school district that suspended him after a teacher saw a BB gun in his room during a virtual class.

The incident happened Sept. 11 when 9-year-old Ka’Mauri Harrison, who is Black, was taking a test in the bedroom that he shares with his two younger brothers.

During the class, the child’s brother came into the room and tripped on a BB gun that had been lying on the floor, according to a lawsuit the family filed Friday in Louisiana’s 24th Judicial District Court.

“Ka’Mauri picked up the toy BB gun, crossed it over his body (passing the screen) and moved it out of his younger’s brother’s way,” says the lawsuit filed against the Jefferson Parish school district and some of its staff.

The child, who attends Woodmere Elementary School in Harvey, then went back to taking his test, the suit says.

“Ka’Mauri never pointed the BB gun at the screen, and he did not say a word to the class or his teacher. There is no evidence that Ka’Mauri was even aware that it had been seen,” the lawsuit says. “Ka’Mauri believed he was doing the right thing, and he had no intent for his BB gun to appear on the computer screen.”

The incident led to Ka’Mauri’s being suspended for six days for what the Jefferson Parish Public School System said was a violation of its policy forbidding weapons at school.

A Louisiana Department of Education School Behavior Report, which was included in the lawsuit, said Ka’Mauri possessed a weapon prohibited under federal law.

The child’s teacher, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, told Ka’Mauri’s mother that she thought she saw him with a rifle, according to the lawsuit.

The behavior report states that during the class Ka’Mauri got up from his seat out of view of the teacher and when he returned “he had what appears to be a full-sized rifle in his possession.”

“He placed it on the side of his chair so that we could only see the barrel,” the report states, adding that the teacher tried to get Ka’Mauri’s attention but could not because his computer had been muted so he could concentrate on taking his test.

After the teacher could not get a response from Ka’Mauri, the boy’s computer screen suddenly went dark, the report said. The teacher then contacted the principal.

A spokesperson for Jefferson Parish Schools said in a statement that it could not comment “on individual student records.”

“Regarding discipline, it is our policy that teachers and administrators may employ reasonable disciplinary and corrective measures to maintain order,” the spokesperson said.

Chelsea Cusimano, an attorney for the family, told NBC News on Tuesday that the school initially considered expelling the child, but during a Sept. 22 hearing decided to suspend him instead.

“We have a child, who is a good child, that wasn’t doing anything intentionally and the grown-ups in the room failed him,” Cusimano said in a phone interview.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said he met with Ka’Mauri’s family and is investigating the incident, adding that it was “appalling” the boy was not given a chance to appeal the suspension.

“Ka’Mauri is a bright young man with a great family; and the fact that he was recommended for expulsion, received a suspension, and not given his right to appeal is appalling,” he wrote. “Ka’Mauri was not only deprived of educational instruction, he was also denied opportunity.”

Alanah Odoms, the executive director of ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement that the suspension was an “excessive and unjustified punishment that reflects the deeply-rooted racism that criminalizes Black students and fuels the school-to-prison pipeline.”

“This incident is a reminder of the systemic racism Black students experience each and every day — and it cannot be tolerated any longer,” Odoms said.

The suit names the school board, the superintendent, the elementary school principal, a hearing officer and the district’s attorney. It accuses the defendants of failing to provide Ka’Mauri the right to appeal his suspension, which ended Sept. 24.

The family is seeking damages and asks that Ka’Mauri be allowed to make up the work he missed when he was suspended. They also want the school board to conduct a hearing on the administrator who disciplined Ka’Mauri.

Emails seeking comments from individual defendants named in the lawsuit did not receive an immediate response Tuesday.