Following toy gun suspension in virtual classroom, family creates political change
EL PASO COUNTY – At the start of the fall 2020 semester, parents of a 12-year-old boy from El Paso County said he was suspended after a teacher saw him with what seemed to be a weapon in a virtual classroom. It turned out to be a toy gun.
According to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the teacher was unsure whether the weapon was real or not. School resources officers went to the boy’s home to verify. Isaiah Elliott’s mother Danielle said he was suspended for five days. “I’m like, in my head, Isaiah is going to open the door, there’s no one home, maybe he has the toy gun in his hand … His voice trembles in the phone, saying ‘Mum, you’re scaring me.’ It was terrifying, it’s something I never wanted her to experience, and again, it was her first interaction with law enforcement, ”Danielle said.
In body-worn camera footage of the incident released by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, a school resources official said they would not have spoken to Isaiah unless a parent did was present.
The scariest part is knowing that I see my child exactly like this: a child. A child. Clumsy. Innocent. However, one, he looks a lot older than he is, and two people perceive him to be a threat. When does a child go from being seen as cute and innocent to being a threat.
Danielle said a lot has happened over the past year and the family recently had their last settlement meeting with Widefield 3 School District where they received a letter. It was August 16, 2021, a week before the start of the school year, according to Danielle. Danielle said the family have been asking for an apology since the August 2020 incident and that letter provided no closure for Isaiah.
In part, the letter states, “The District deeply regrets the impact this incident has had on the Elliots and apologizes to Isaiah for any embarrassment or discomfort he may have felt. “
Danielle believes the letter, which arrived about a year after Isaiah was suspended, was not sincere. “You can say it was written specifically in their favor, rather than directed at a 13 year old… We’re supposed to teach our kids that, ‘hey, take responsibility for your actions. wrong, apologize, make it right. ‘ So I guess I expected the district to be held to the same standard, ”Danielle said.
A spokesperson for Widefield School District 3 did not have a copy of the letter to provide to News5. Danielle showed her a copy of the letter and also sent a photo of the newspaper.
Danielle said the suspension was removed from Isaiah’s disciplinary record and the district hired a Equity, diversion and inclusion firm to perform an audit. Among other initiatives, she said the district is also reviewing its policies regarding school resource officers.
According to Danielle, the family eventually came to a settlement agreement that the district will continue to pursue these issues, especially in online learning environments and when it comes to racial minorities or children with disabilities.
The incident prompted the family to pursue what they see as necessary political change. “Law of Isaiah”, which is HB21-1059, was enacted in May 2021. “Basically it puts in place other bans preventing schools from overstepping their skills as to what we can and cannot do as parents in our home,” said Danielle.
Specifically, a school offering online education to students is prohibited from:
- Prohibit the parent of the online student from being in the same room while the student participates in online instruction, but the person conducting the instruction may require a disruptive parent to leave the instruction area in line ;
- Require an online student to use a camera while participating in online education if the student’s technology does not allow the use of a camera; and
- Suspend or expel an online student based on something observed in the student’s physical environment or the student’s behavior while participating in online education, unless the behavior constitutes the ‘one of the legal grounds for suspension or expulsion.
The law also distinguishes between “the premises, facilities and buildings of an educational institution” and the home of an online student, “for the purposes of the crime of interference with staff, faculty or students of educational institutions ”.
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