Bill is first proposed legislation on virtual school policy
BATON ROUGE, La. (WDSU) – The first piece of legislation that would create school policies for virtual learning in Louisiana moves from the House of Representatives to the Senate Monday. HB 83 goes before the Senate Education Committee at 1 p.m.
It’s a bill that was born from a WDSU investigation into Jefferson Parish virtual school students being recommended for expulsion and ultimately suspended when BB guns were seen in their bedrooms while they learned at home.
Legislators named the bill ‘The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act,’ after the 9-year-old featured in WDSU’s original story. At Monday’s meeting, Ka’Mauri’s father, Nyron, plans to advocate for the bill, which provides protections for virtual school students, requires school districts to review their school policies and write new ones for virtual students and expands avenues for appeals in certain cases.
With the help of New Orleans attorney Chelsea Cusimano, the Harrison family has met with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards as the proposal has been working its way through the legislative process.
In a statement to WDSU, a spokesperson for Edwards wrote: “Of course, the Governor will have to review the final version of the bill before signing, but given that virtual learning has become a significant part of the education process, he believes it is important to have good policies in place to address any issues that might arise as more students learn from home. The Governor enjoyed meeting with Ka’Mauri and his father and thanked them for working on an issue that will ultimately benefit schools, students and parents.”
Tim Brown said his son, who is in 6th grade in Grand Isle was also recommended for expulsion from his Jefferson Parish school for moving a BB gun during an online class. After a disciplinary hearing, Tomie Brown was suspended and is now on probation with the school system.
“This bill is important because it gives parents and students more protection when facing expulsion, and it gives parents and students participating in virtual learning direction as to what the policies are for virtual learning,” Brown said. “We went into this school year with no direction as to what the school board believed with regard to our homes, and now my son has a weapons on campus charge for a BB gun that was in his bedroom. When I tried to appeal this, I was denied and this bill is the only way I will I can fix this for my son and fix this for other families moving forward.”
The bill won unanimous support from the House of Representatives and picked up a total of 70 authors along the way. Still, it is expected to be scrutinized in the Senate.
“Lets slow it down and drill down and really look at what every line of what this bill does and if there are any unintended consequences,” said Senator Kirk Talbot, who sits on the Education Committee and represents district 10 in Jefferson Parish.
In a letter to Legislators, the Jefferson Parish School System pointed out multiple problems it said would hurt school systems legally and financially. It also said student discipline would suffer.
Sen. Talbot expects Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. James Gray to attend Monday’s committee meeting. He said he and other committee members will examine each of the objects the school system posed, but also plan to ask Gray about Ka’Mauri’s case and why it could not be resolved without legislative action.
“From what I’m looking at — just by reading and what I know — it seems like this was way overboard and this thing should have never even gotten to this point, Talbot said. “This kid should have never been recommended for expulsion over something like this with a BB gun.”
Louisiana’s Special Session must end Oct. 27. The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act would have to be passed by then for Gov. Edwards to consider signing it into law.