NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in support of Ka’Mauri Harrison, a nine-year-old Black student who was unjustly suspended and improperly recommended for expulsion from Woodmere Elementary School for accidentally making a BB gun visible in his bedroom while taking an online test. The brief supports the Harrison family in challenging the Jefferson Parish school officials’ decision to order exclusionary discipline against Ka’Mauri Harrison, explaining that racial disproportionality in exclusionary discipline has been shown to have a life-altering detrimental impact on Black students, and is likely a consequence of racial discrimination.
Woodmere Elementary School administrators apparently assumed that Harrison was in violation of the state’s Gun Free Schools policy, a zero-tolerance measure meant to keep deadly weapons out of schools. In applying this policy to a BB gun, which was briefly made visible in Harrison’s home while he attended virtual school because of the Covid-19 pandemic, administrators joined a decades-long trend of disproportionately applying exclusionary discipline to Black students.
“It is disturbing that Black children still face such shocking racism in schools nearly 70 years after Brown v. Board of Education,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “Exclusionary discipline has repeatedly been shown to have devastating effects on achievement later in life, yet we are still seeing so many Black students disproportionately suspended and expelled largely because of their race, especially when combined with so-called ‘zero-tolerance’ policies. ACLU of Louisiana calls on the Jefferson Parish School Board to reconsider this discriminatory decision and join us in upholding the constitutional rights of Louisiana students and combating racial disparities in education. Education is a civil right, and all students must be given equitable opportunities to learn.”
Louisiana’s and other jurisdictions’ Gun Free Schools policies were originally designed for a brick-and-mortar school environment, but Jefferson Parish school administrators chose to apply theirs to a novel, virtual-learning circumstance. This choice is an overly expansive use of discretion, highly susceptible to abuse and the disproportionate educational disenfranchisement of Black students.
Ka’Mauri Harrison’s story demonstrates the need for a decision-making approach that recognizes the special plight of Black children in our schools, amplified by novel situations like the Covid-19 pandemic. Odoms stresses that “this incident is a reminder of the systemic racism Black students experience each and every day—and it cannot be tolerated any longer.”
The amicus brief was prepared by the ACLU of Louisiana along with John Flynn and Carter Smith of Jenner & Block LLP.