Long time readers know I have often taken panicky teachers and school administrators to task when they have idiotically over reacted to the slightest image of or reference to guns. Students have been suspended for having images of guns on computers, drawings of guns, forming their fingers into a sort of gun shape, even pointing a chicken finger that might, if one is particularly imaginative, sort of resemble a battered and fried gun, at another student in a school lunchroom. I normally post an education article on Mondays, and a firearm-related article on Tuesdays. This one has elements of both general subjects. This particular situation indicates part of the problem—apart from educational incompetence—with “distance learning.” Come with me now, gentle readers, to KDVR TV—Fox31–in Colorado Springs, CO:
A 12-year-old boy has been suspended for having a toy gun he never brought to school.
Isaiah Elliott attends Grand Mountain, a K-8 grade school in the Widefield District #3, just south of Colorado Springs.
On Thursday, Aug. 27, the seventh grader was attending on online art class when a teacher saw Isaiah flash a toy gun across his computer screen. The toy in question is a neon green and black handgun with an orange tip with the words ‘Zombie Hunter’ printed on the side.
The teacher notified the school principal who suspended Isaiah for five days and called the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a welfare check on the boy without calling his parents first.
Googling “Zombie Hunter Toy Gun,” I found, within seconds, the six photos above, only a small sample of the many similar photos, and those only a small part of the voluminous results.
‘It was really frightening and upsetting for me as a parent, especially as the parent of an African-American young man, especially given what’s going on in our country right now,’ said Isaiah’s father, Curtis Elliott, in an exclusive interview with FOX31.
Curtis’ wife Dani Elliott was equally furious with the school’s decision to notify her, only after deputies were on their way to the family’s home.
‘For them to go as extreme as suspending him for five days, sending the police out, having the police threaten to press charges against him because they want to compare the virtual environment to the actual in-school environment is insane,’ said Dani Elliott.
Perhaps the teacher and administrator involved were certain the boy represented an imminent and deadly threat?
The Problem Solvers [TV channel investigative unit] obtained the sheriff’s report and it confirms the teacher ‘said she assumed it was a toy gun but was not certain.’
Oh. Well, perhaps the boy was brandishing the obviously toy gun in a threatening manner?
Neither parent knew the school was recording their son’s virtual class but said the district refused to provide the video to them when they requested it.
A sheriff’s deputy recorded the video on his body cam and showed it to the boy’s father. Curtis Elliott told FOX31 the video shows his son sitting at home on his sofa when he momentarily picks up the toy gun on the right side of where he’s sitting and moves it to his left side, not realizing that in the process his teacher and fellow students saw him move the gun across the computer screen.
In other words, the boy merely picked up the toy and moved it from place to place, apparently not aware it could be seen by others. The brief exposure/movement, took a few seconds. He did not point it at anyone or anything, uttered no threats, and did nothing—remember, this is being seen over a Zoom-like Internet session; there were no actual human beings anywhere near Isaiah who was alone at home—any rational person could have possibly thought dangerous.
‘If her main concern was his safety, a two-minute phone call to me or my husband could easily have alleviated this whole situation to where I told them it was fake,’ said Dani Elliott.
The Elliotts said their son was traumatized by deputies telling the 12-year-old his behavior could’ve led to criminal charges and might in the future if he were to do something similar again.
Let us review:
1) This was a virtual school session; Isiah was not actually in school, but was at home. He was nowhere near the school or a classroom; he was in his own home.
2) It was a toy gun, clearly identifiable as a toy gun by it’s green color, clear lettering, and blaze orange muzzle. As I’ve previously noted, were anyone worried about whether the gun were real, it would have taken seconds to allay any worry—the school district recorded the session. They could re-run the few seconds of the gun at will.
3) Obviously, the teacher involved failed to do due diligence, but what about the principal? They’re supposed to ensure things don’t get out of hand. They’re supposed to be a filter to ensure rationality and proportional discipline. Obviously, they too failed to spend a few seconds on the Internet. And a five-day suspension? Lunacy, as we’ll discuss shortly.
4) The school refused to let the parents see the recording. I’m sure they’d claim they were protecting student privacy, but when they used that video for disciplinary purposes against Isaiah, it became evidence, part of the record to which his parents must have access. This indicates they knew they were wrong and were trying to limit public access to their stupidity.
5) What in the name of all that’s holy was the local Sheriff’s office doing? I can understand—barely–a deputy going to the home to speak with the parents. In this case, the deputy apparently did what he should have done: stop at the school and speak to everyone involved to be certain there was a valid issue. Knowing that he did, I’m having difficulty understanding why he didn’t tell the principal he saw no crime and no reason for concern. Still, he went to the Elliott’s home, and upon discovering it was a toy gun, and having in his possession a video that showed exactly what Isaiah did and didn’t do, any competent law enforcement officer should have apologized for bothering the family, assured them there would be no criminal repercussions, and assured them he would speak with the school so nothing like this happened in the future. The Sheriff should speak with all schools in his jurisdiction and clarify that his deputies will not roust families under virtual schooling conditions where there is no possibility of an actual threat. NOTE: I am taking the Elliot’s account–they are, by the way, a military family–of what the deputy said at face value because it sounds like what an overly officious cop would have said in a similar circumstance. I’ve been there, seen that—not done it. I will be more than glad to make a correction if I should have extended a greater benefit of the doubt.
As I’m sure you might expect, gentle readers, the school district would not speak with Fox31. They sent this by e-mail instead:
Isaiah’s parents say safety was never a true issue and suspending their son, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has learning disabilities, in no way helps his education.
No kidding. I suspect a five-day suspension is in effect in that district for any child that brings a gun to school, even a toy gun. As you have seen, the school/school district is asserting actually being physically present in school, and participating in a two-way Internet lesson are the same thing and present the same level of non-existent danger. This is intolerably stupid and authoritarian. While a school might reasonably hand out discipline for a student screaming obscenities, exposing himself on camera, or otherwise willfully disrupting an Internet lesson, a toy gun visible on camera for a few seconds, a toy gun in the student’s home, cannot possibly be grounds for discipline.
The district is now receiving dozens of critical comments on its Facebook page. In response, the district denies its response was based on race or discrimination but seemed to acknowledge it recorded Isaiah Elliot’s virtual class without parental permission.
The district wrote on its Facebook page, ‘The platforms we use for distance learning have the feature to record classes for educational purposes. During our first week of school, we were still becoming familiar with the platform. It is not our current practice to record classes at this time. Parents will be notified if that changes. We will continue to support all families in our school to make sure they feel safe, respected, and educated.’
Isaiah’s parents say if the district wants to respect families, it should show common sense and call parents if there is a concern with a child’s behavior.
In this situation, Isaiah’s parents are the virtual definition of common sense. Any competent administrator would call the child’s parents as soon as possible, and before involving the police. There is no law, no legal obligation that would cause the school to involve the police in such circumstances.
As you know, gentle readers, I am among the last to ever call “racism,” and I am not in this situation. I wonder, however, where is the universal media outrage? Where are the BLM race hustlers? Where are the cries for social justice? Where’s the rioting, the looting? Doesn’t Isaiah’s black life matter in this situation?
I write this, of course, with substantial irony. What is not ironic is Isaiah’s parents are removing him from this school, and sending him to a charter or private school. For a district that wants “all families in our school to… feel safe, respected, and educated,” they have a very odd way of showing it: recording kids in their homes without permission or notice, suspending a child for five days for non-threatening and entirely lawful actions in his home, sending the police out to investigate the family for allowing their 12 year old son to have a completely legal toy, failing to contact the parents first and denying the parents access to the video they improperly—perhaps illegally—recorded.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on the school here, gentle readers. I don’t have their complete version of events, but that’s because they have refused to provide it, and instead, have provided only the kind of eduspeak educrats invariably use when they know they’ve gone too far, in fact, behaved unprofessionally and foolishly, and are trying to weasel their way out of it. But should additional information come to light, I will, as always, make necessary corrections.
But this is scarcely the only such incident. Law Enforcement Today reports:
Another sixth grader, attending Bell Middle School in Golden, was suspended for four days in a similar scenario. The 11-year-old was seen playing with an Airsoft gun while attended an online class via Zoom. The boy had just completed a quiz, and was playing with his toy gun while waiting for other students to finish.
Similar to the Elliot scenario, a school Resource Officer from the Wheaton Ridge Police Department visited the boy’s home shortly thereafter to conduct a welfare check.
The boy’s father, Justin Blow, told KDVR:
‘We are not saying it was appropriate that he do it. What we are saying is that it is a gross overreaction.’
The student, 11-year-old Maddow Blow, told ABC27 News:
‘I was just fiddling with it because I was bored, and so I just fiddled with the nearest object at hand.’
When asked about how he felt to have a Wheat Ridge Police Officer show up at his doorstep, Blow told them:
‘I was crying. I just couldn’t handle it. I really thought I was going to jail, or something was going to happen to me or my family… I would never bring even a toy to the actual school because I know how serious that is.’
‘I was in my own home, and I felt that that was OK, and I thought that my camera was off, too.’
What concerns me most, gentle readers, is virtual intrusion into the privacy of student’s and parent’s homes. That, and the hysterical overreaction of teachers and principals to innocuous, legal behavior by kids. I know this sort of thing happens too frequently. I write about only a fraction of the incidents I find. The danger is the Covid-19 panic is not only dramatically reducing the quality of educational opportunity for kids, it’s now threatening to put the police in untenable positions—they should know better—and is further damaging the public’s trust in education and law enforcement.