Tomie Brown (right) was suspended for being in possession of a BB gun during an online class at Grand Isle School. His father, Timothy Brown, (left) has sued the Jefferson Parish School System, alleging multiple violations of the school board’s written policy. (Photo courtesy attorney Chelsea Cusimano)
The father of a Grand Isle 6th grader sued the Jefferson Parish School Board Monday, claiming that the board’s decision to suspend the 11-year-old for possession of a BB gun while he was logged on a virtual class followed a series of lies from school system officials and multiple violations of the school board’s written policy.
Among other things, the lawsuit, filed in state court in Jefferson Parish, accuses the school system of destroying the video recording of the boy’s testimony in a September disciplinary hearing because, the suit claims, the recording contained information that would have helped the student and highlighted the inconsistency of school system employees.
Tomie Brown was initially recommended for expulsion following an incident that happened Sept. 9 — two days before a similar Sept. 11 incident led to Ka’Mauri Harrison, a fourth grader in Woodmere, also being recommended for expulsion. Ka’Mauri’s little brother tripped over BB gun, causing the child to move it out of his way and inadvertently place it where it could be seen by others in his virtual classroom.
During a break in science class, Tomie’s teacher reportedly heard two girls giggling and saying that Tomie had a gun. The teacher saw nothing when he looked at his screen, but wrote in a report that when he questioned Tomie he said he was sorry and that it was a BB gun. In that same report, the teacher wrote that “the student admitted he had done this and realized he had made a mistake. In my opinion, he was not making a threat or threatening anyone. He just wanted to show the BB gun off to his peers.”
Both students were spared expulsion and ultimately given three-day suspensions.
Chelsea Cusimano, the attorney who is representing both boys, claims in the lawsuit that Tomie’s father, Timothy Brown, recorded Grand Isle School Principal Christine Templet telling him the day after the incident that he didn’t need to waste money getting an attorney and that the charge against Tomie would be dropped.
The Jefferson Parish School Board heard the Brown family’s appeal on Dec. 4 immediately after it had denied the Harrison family’s appeal. The board didn’t even ask to hear Tomie’s testimony or his father’s testimony before making their decision to uphold the weapons charge on Tomie’s student record, Cusimano said.
“I think there’s a good argument to be made that the only reason they behaved that way is because less than an hour earlier, they just decided to uphold the charges against the Black kid (Ka’Mauri Harrison) and made his charges match up with the White kid,” Cusimano said in a phone interview Monday.
When asked for a response, Christian Justrabo, a spokesperson for the Jefferson Parish public schools, said the system does not comment on pending litigation.
Cusimano said the school board failed to follow its own procedures on multiple occasions throughout the disciplinary process, including failing to keep a record of Tomie’s Sept. 18 hearing after assuring the family that a recording would be made to ensure an “unbiased record,” the lawsuit claims. Cusimano said she believes the recording was intentionally destroyed because “it has concrete evidence of wrongdoing on it.”
The lawsuit alleges that after Principal Templet informed Timothy Brown that Tomie would be recommended for expulsion, that the father sent his son out of the room and told the principal that the school system’s argument that his home was an extension of the classroom was “bull—-” and that he might file suit. According to the Brown family’s lawsuit, after the school board heard that recording Dec. 4, Mark Morgan, who presided over that meeting, “stated that Principal Templet had only said the charges would be ‘dropped’ because Mr. Brown used ‘offensive language’ and had ‘threatened litigation.’”
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