EAST BATON ROUGE, La. (WDSU)- In the month since WDSU Investigates broke the story of Jefferson Parish fourth grader Ka’Mauri Harrison being threatened with expulsion for moving a BB gun in his bedroom during an online class, a firestorm of changes have swept the state. The most significant change is The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act, which writes protections for virtual students into state law and requires school systems to create virtual school policies by Dec. 31. The bill was sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards desk this week without receiving a single vote of opposition.
Now one school system is reversing its decision to discipline a student in a similar situation. According to a school incident report reviewed by WDSU, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System reported 11-year-old Rondell Coleman to the Sheriff’s Department Sept. 18 when a gun was seen in his bedroom during a virtual class. The incident report said Rondell “was brandishing a gun on camera.” According to the report, the deputy went to the child’s home, was allowed inside and brought a BB gun back to the school. “It (the BB gun) was confiscated and Rondell was charged,” the report
Evette Coleman said her grandson was traumatized. “This is a BB gun,” Coleman said. “You’re going to come and read a kid rights because he has a BB gun?”
She said her daughter-in-law was also read her Miranda rights and was interrogated with her son.
“I don’t know if they’re confused that we’re not on campus,” Coleman said. “We’re in our home. We are in our private home.”
Rondell was recommended for expulsion and immediately moved to an alternative school. The alternative campus is a last resort school for students with significant discipline problems and repeat violations.
Coleman had seen WDSU Investigations on similar cases involving BB guns in virtual classes. She reached out to the attorney featured in those stories, Chelsea Cusimano.
Cusimano was already working with the Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office to get weapons violations wiped from the permanent school records of Harrison, and a second Jefferson Parish student, Tomie Brown. Together with state lawmakers they were crafting legislation that would become The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act.
“We just saw this to be very significant government overreach, and I think everyone in the country is sympathetic to that and that first story really triggered that firestorm,” said Solicitor General Liz Murrill.
Again, the baton was passed to Landry’s office, and Murrill contacted the EBR School Board about Rondell. She said the criminal charges were dropped and the school system agreed to reverse the violations against Rondell. Still, he spent over two weeks at the alternative school after that decision was made.
“I was very disturbed when I found that the child was cooling his heels in alternative school, and I was worried for the child, but they did react very quickly when they found out … something had fallen through the cracks,” Murrill said. “I give them credit for reacting and for acting and for acknowledging that they had not updated their policies and done the right thing.”
Coleman said her grandson is back at his elementary school but is quiet and reserved. “He doesn’t understand what he did wrong,” she said.
Murrill said Jefferson Parish Public Schools is the only district in the state that her office is aware of that has not reversed virtual school violations involving BB guns seen in students’ homes. She said her office will advocate for the students and families affected until their school records are wiped clean.
At the Senate Education Committee Hearing on The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act, attorneys for the Jefferson Parish School System defended its actions and opposed the bill. They said a person’s home is considered part of the school campus when a student is learning online.
The Harrison family has sued the Jefferson Parish School system. The Brown family is considering legal action, as well, according to Cusimano who represents both families and the Colemans.
“We cannot thank the Attorney General’s Office enough for launching this investigation, and for clearing Rondell’s record and their efforts to clear Jefferson Parish’s (cases),” Cusimano said.
The first hearing involving a restraining order against the school system is scheduled for Nov. 4.
The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act is awaiting Edwards’ signature.
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