Louisiana school board settles BB gun suspension lawsuits
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana school board agreed to pay $165,000 to settle lawsuits by parents of two children suspended last year for holding BB guns during online classes.
Fourth-grader Ka’Mauri Harrison of Harvey and sixth-grader Tomie Brown of Grand Isle both got suspended last September after teachers saw them with BB guns when the children were logged into classes from home.
Their families filed suit against the Jefferson Parish School Board in federal court, arguing the punishments violated the children’s rights to freedom of expression, to bear arms and due process.
The Jefferson Parish School Board announced Wednesday that it had settled both lawsuits out of court, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported. The board agreed to pay Harrison’s family $92,500 and Brown’s family $72,500.
In addition, the board agreed to change disciplinary records of both students to say they were suspended for disruptive conduct, removing any reference to weapons.
“The School Board and Harrison-Williams and Brown families are pleased that they were able to reach a resolution and can now refocus on the education of Jefferson Parish students in an orderly, safe and welcoming environment in both virtual and non-virtual classroom settings,” attorneys for the school board and the families said in a joint statement.
The school board was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association for the suspensions, which applied policies banning weapons at school or at school-sponsored events to children learning from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Louisiana lawmakers passed a new law in Harrison’s name that 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.
Prior to the settlement, attorneys for the Jefferson Parrish School Board has asked a federal judge to throw out the state law, arguing it violated school officials’ due process rights. They targeted provisions that made the law retroactive and let families get back payments to attorneys who represented them in appealing suspensions.
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