Bill addressing discipline in virtual classrooms is changed to cover only students who’ve been recommended for expulsion

Ku'Mauri Harrison and his father testify in front of the House education committee.

A bill that would have given the right to a hearing to all Louisiana students who are suspended or recommended for expulsion for an alleged virtual classroom infraction was amended Monday to include only students who’ve been recommended for expulsion.  Students who’ve had recommendations for expulsion reduced to a suspension would also be covered, which means the bill’s namesake, Ku’Mauri Harrison, would still be included. 

Ku’Mauri is the 9-year-old Jefferson Parish boy whose little brother tripped over a BB gun and set off a sequence of events that led to Ku’Mauri being suspended by the Jefferson Parish School System but embraced and defended by members of the Louisiana Legislature and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

When his little brother tripped, Ku’Mauri moved the BB gun out of the way but positioned it where it could be seen on the screen of his virtual class.  Accused of displaying “a facsimile weapon while receiving virtual instruction,” he was initially recommended for expulsion but was eventually given a six-day suspension.

Landry called it “blatant government overreach by the school system” and said, “I have begun investigating this matter and plan to take action in defense of this young man and his family and all families who could suffer the same invasion of their homes and constitutional rights.” 

Introduced by Rep. Troy Romero, R-Jennings, the bill that’s now become known as the “Ku’Mauri Harrison Act” was originally drafted to spell out the rights of “any student who has been subjected to suspension or recommended for expulsion for behavior displayed while participating in virtual instruction.”  It would grant those students the right to a hearing before a school board and, if necessary, a judge.

That version of the bill was unanimously passed by the House Education Committee and unanimously passed on the House floor.  But during Monday’s Senate Education Committee hearing,  Wes Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish schools and president of the Louisiana Association of Superintendents, told lawmakers it would be  “tough if you put all those suspensions (in the bill) and they could all be appealed.”

Watts said two-day suspensions happen “quite commonly” in schools across the state, and it would be too much of a burden to establish an appeals process for all those cases. The committee agreed to alter the language so that it would apply only to expulsions and students, such as Ku’Mauri, who’ve had expulsion recommendations reduced to suspensions.

Victor Jones, a New Orleans civil rights attorney with an emphasis on children’s and disabilities rights, said after Monday’s hearing that he expected there to be compromises between between legislators and school boards, but he’s concerned the change will encourage schools to do a workaround and just administer more suspensions without recommendations for expulsion. Suspensions are serious, he said. “(Disciplinary records) follow you throughout your academic career. Currently, Ku’Mauri can go wherever he goes and the suspension will follow him,” Jones said.  If the Ku’Mauri Harrison Act becomes law, Ku’Mauri’s parents will be able to appeal the suspension he was given.

Jones said he also worries about charter schools, which, he said, are already permitted not to follow the disciplinary guidelines required of traditional schools. “Someone needs to amend this bill to make sure it falls under the charter exception statutes,” he said.

“If I were a charter school and I didn’t like this existing bill, once it goes into law, if there’s no amendment to the charter exception statute, then I… don’t have to follow this process that’s been passed in the legislation.” The bill now moves on to the full Senate.