*This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Ka’Mauri Harrison’s name.
Despite becoming a poster boy for excessive school disciplinary policies and being embraced and defended by politicians across the political spectrum, Ka’Mauri Harrison, a 9-year-old Jefferson Parish boy who inadvertently placed a BB gun in view of his online classroom, will not have the suspension that followed removed from his academic record. The Jefferson Parish School Board decided that the suspension should stay on Ka’Mauri’s record at a Friday meeting, prompting the boy’s father to call them “shameful.”
Nyron Harrison, while leading his son out of the room, said, “We’re leaving. Y’all ain’t a court.”
A New Orleans civil rights attorney who represents children, especially those who believe they’ve been wrongly penalized by school officials, said the fourth grader’s only option to overturn his suspension now is federal litigation. “It’s unfortunate,” attorney Victor Jones said, “but that’s where we are.” Jones does not represent Ka’Mauri Harrison or his family.
Even though the Jefferson Parish School Board didn’t appeal the weapons violation off the disciplinary record of Ka’Mauri who had a BB gun in his background during virtual learning, a New Orleans civil rights attorney said their decision shouldn’t act as a precedent in other students’ appeals processes.
On Sept. 11, while Ka’Mauri was taking a test for his online class, his little brother tripped over a BB gun. Ka’Mauri moved the BB gun out of the way but put it in a place 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 suspended for six days.
His cause was embraced by state politicians from both parties who considered the incident a non-offense and the punishment an outrage. Looking for change, Ka’Mauri and his father testified in front of the Louisiana House Education Committee in favor of HB 83, or “The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act.” That bill, which passed the Louisiana Legislature with no opposition, gave the Harrison family the right to appeal the suspension and gave the school board the right to “affirm, modify, or reverse the action previously taken.”
In Ka’Mauri’s case, the board affirmed the suspension.
“Why is this school system so bent on this child having a record?” asked Nahliah Webber, executive director of the Orleans Public Education Network, a nonprofit in the neighboring parish that advocates for equitable education policies. “It’s like they’d rather be right than just.”
Webber said the board’s decision was “disappointing, but not surprising.” Ka’Mauri may look back at this decision as his first experience of the interconnections between institutional racism, the criminal justice system and school.
“I’m very happy that he and his family advocated and pushed the issue,” Webber said. “But there’s a bit of a loss of innocence in something like this and the conversations he has to have with his father about why this is happening.”
Jones said the school board’s decision has unfortunate long term consequences for Ka’Mauri.
“(Disciplinary records) follow you throughout your academic career. Currently, Ka’Mauri can go wherever he goes and the suspension will follow him,” Jones said.
Even though the namesake of “The Ka’Mauri Harrison Act” didn’t succeed in his appeal of his punishment, Jones said that doesn’t mean the Harrisons’ decision to go to the legislature was in vain.
Decisions to overturn a disciplinary decision will vary from district to district, so the Jefferson Parish School Board’s decision to not overturn Ka’Mauri’s suspension doesn’t mean other school boards will reject future appeals.
The new law should also have a deterrent effect on school districts “who don’t want to be the next Jefferson Parish” in the news, Jones said.
“I’d be really surprised if after all of this, including the legislation, including the media, that we would hear from other districts where this issue is happening again,” Jones said.