The nationally-watched case of a Harvey fourth-grader suspended in a BB gun controversy arrived at the State Capitol on Wednesday when a House committee approved a bill that would give students and families more appeal rights.
The measure, House Bill 83, would also require school boards to revamp discipline policies to account for the virtual learning landscape that has become commonplace because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal cleared the House Education Committee without objection and next faces action in the full House.
It was sparked by the case of Ka’Mauri Harrison, 9, who was suspended last month after he moved a BB gun out of the way of his younger brother while Ka’Mauri was taking an online test.
Jefferson Parish officials initially said the youngster would be expelled because the teacher said he handled a “full size rifle,” visible on his computer, while at an extension of the school campus – his home. The punishment was later trimmed to a six-day suspension.
But the case sparked an outpouring of national attention and support for the Harrison family through Facebook, the news media and Twitter.
“I got the whole world supporting my son,” Nyron Harrison, the father of Ka’Mauri, told the committee.
“I am trying to hold back tears because I am so proud of my son,” he said.
“He doesn’t understand the seriousness of what is going on. He is making history and I am a proud father right now.”
The family later got an unusual ovation from the committee room audience after more than 30 minutes of testimony and supportive comments from panel members.
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The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Troy Romero, R-Jennings, and backed by state Attorney General Jeff Landry. It would ensure students and families could appeal school suspensions, not just expulsions, to the school board and district court in cases where the original expulsion order was reduced to suspension.
The legislation would also require school districts to hammer out new discipline policies that apply to distance learning – instruction that takes place while a student is at home or another location, not the school.
The proposal says the new policy “shall clearly define the rules of conduct and expectations of students engaged in virtual instruction.”
“There is not a lot of breathing room for school officials,” Elizabeth Murrill, Solicitor General for Landry’s office, said of current discipline policies.
Murrill said the episode represents “a failure of grown-ups in the room.”
Said Romero, “We would never have been here if common sense had played into it from the very beginning.”
He said the changes are not aimed at teachers or superintendents.
“We are here to make sure there is a proper order in place so that students and parents have a place to go for appeal,” Romero said.
No official of the Jefferson Parish School District appeared before the committee.
A statement from the district said that, because of a pending lawsuit, it would not comment on the case.
Ka’Mauri Harrison thanked the committee for hearing from him, his father and family attorney Chelsea Cusimano.
“You are growing up quick,” replied House Education Committee Chairman Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette.
“I know it has been a lot of angst for you and your family,” Garofalo said.
Cusimano told the committee that, because of current policies, the Harrison family was thrown into a “bureaucratic abyss.”
She said the legislation would clear up the confusion and allow for a second review in such cases.
“If you guys pass this we will be the first in the nation to recognize this issue,” Cusimano said. “It would be awesome.”
Under a committee amendment, if the measure becomes state law it will be called “The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act.”
Nyron Harrison said he first learned of the incident when he was in Algiers caring for his ailing father.
He said he rushed home “because I know the seriousness of a Black child having a firearm or exposing a firearm in a classroom session.”
Harrison said the Daisy BB gun was a gift for his son’s ninth birthday.
The bill would allow the families of students to collect attorney fees if they are successful in court as well as a written apology from district officials that would be a part of the student’s educational record.