BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The suspension of a 9-year-old Louisiana student because a teacher saw a BB gun in his bedroom during online classes held amid the coronavirus pandemic is triggering changes to student discipline laws.
Without fanfare Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill by Jennings Republican Rep. Troy Romero. The measure gives students and their families more options to appeal certain disciplinary decisions and requires schools to tweak their discipline policies for at-home, online instruction.
The legislation passed unanimously in the special session that ended in October. It takes effect immediately.
The new law will be named after Ka’Mauri Harrison, a Jefferson Parish fourth grader who was suspended in September for violating a policy banning weapons at schools after a teacher saw the gun in his room as he took a test via computer.
Harrison and his family traveled to the Louisiana Capitol repeatedly during the special session to advocate for passage of the bill. The young student told senators in one hearing: “Thank you for helping kids my age and kids like me.”
His father, Nyron Harrison, told lawmakers that his son’s brother tripped over the gun and Ka’Mauri picked it up briefly while visible on camera to move the gun, which prompted disciplinary action. Harrison initially was recommended for expulsion, though that later was changed to a six-day suspension.
Harrison’s suspension drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and Republicans, who argued people’s homes during online coursework shouldn’t be treated the same as school property. Among those who criticized the disciplinary action were the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association. Harrison’s family is suing the Jefferson Parish school system.
Romero’s bill allows parents of a student recommended for expulsion — even if the recommendation is reduced to a suspension — to have more rights of appeal, including to a district court. Students who win in court can be awarded damages and attorney fees.
The new law also requires school discipline policies by Dec. 31 to “clearly define the rules of conduct” for students taking classes through virtual instruction. The policies will have to take into consideration “the students’ and their families’ rights to privacy and other constitutional rights while at home or in a location that is not school property.”
The Louisiana attorney general’s office said it has found several instances where students have been recommended for expulsion because of BB guns in the home, visible during online classes.
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