BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A Jefferson Parish fourth-grader was nearly expelled for having his BB gun visible during a virtual class in September. But Louisiana lawmakers are giving him a warm welcome.
A state Senate education panel advanced legislation Monday that would require school districts to craft disciplinary policies specific to virtual learning. If passed, it would become the Ka’Mauri Harrison Act — named after the nine-year-old student from Harvey.
“Set the policy, and they’ll follow the rules,” bill sponsor Rep. Troy Romero (R-Jennings) told the committee.
The bill would also give students paths to appeal expulsions — even if they are reduced to suspensions — in order to clear permanent records.
Romero argues Harrison had no clear disciplinary policy to follow — and was still punished. Despite claiming he was moving the BB gun so his brother wouldn’t trip on it in his bedroom, Harrison received discipline as if he had brought the gun onto a physical campus.
“I just felt like my home was totally invaded,” said Nyron Harrison, Ka’Mauri’s father. “Once they told me he wasn’t playing with the gun, I was like, ‘What’s the problem? What are y’all looking for? I feel like y’all are just looking for something.'”
Louisiana’s solicitor general, Liz Murrill, noted three examples of students recommended for expulsion after having BB guns visible during virtual learning sessions. The cases have sparked outcry from gun rights and civil liberties groups, as well as the state’s Democratic governor and Republican attorney general.
“I believe there’s a higher degree of privacy when you’re sitting in your home than when you’re sitting in a school,” Sen. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) said.
Opposition has come from certain school superintendents, who argue the legislation would clog school districts’ calendars with appeals — both before the board and in courts.
“COVID-19 has put our school systems in a tailspin,” said West Baton Rouge Schools superintendent Wes Watts, on behalf of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents. “Saying that policies should have been made back in March, I think, was impossible.”
But bill supporters replied that schools have had seven months — since the coronavirus pandemic began — to consider virtual learning policies.
“How incredible is it that we’ve reached the point where a child has to come up here and say please do something?” said Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton), looking at Ka’Mauri in the Senate committee room. “This is just wrong.”
“We all made mistakes during this pandemic,” Sen. Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge) said. “And we move on.”
The would-be Ka’Mauri Harrison Act goes next to the full Senate, where passage would return it to the House for concurrence. The House has already endorsed the initial bill.
“Thank you for helping kids my age and kids like me,” Ka’Mauri told Senate committee members Monday.