NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — Two students in the Jefferson Parish school system have been suspended over the last month for showing BB guns during virtual schooling. The incidents led to a bill that is moving forward with push back from school leaders.
House Bill 83 was named for 4th grader Ka'Mauri Harrison. It moves forward to the Senate Monday, but Jefferson Parish school leaders are urging the legislature to reject the bill.
Harrison was suspended for six days last month after a teacher spotted a BB gun in his bedroom during a virtual class.
"When I first saw the letter it was an immediate slap in the face to the two families I represent," said Chelsea Brener Cusimano.
Cusimano is representing Harrison and the family of sixth grader Tomie Brown who was also suspended for showing a bb gun in a virtual class.
"This is a bill that is progressive and will protect students not only in student discipline, but mandate policies and procedures are put in place to protect students participating in virtual learning," she said.
House Bill 83, also called the Ka'Mauri Harrison Act, would create virtual school policies and allow parents to appeal disciplinary actions. It passed in the House Education Committee last week 96 to 0.
Friday, The Jefferson Parish Superintendent and three board members issued an open letter to legislators urging them to reject the bill stating concerns.
"How are they trying to start a train that's already in motion that has such wide support," Cusimano said.
House Bill 83 will go before the Senate Education Committee Monday.
The full letter from Jefferson Parish leaders:
OPEN LETTER TO LOUISIANA STATE LEGISLATORS
October 15, 2020
Dear Louisiana Legislators,
These are unprecedented times in education, and we appreciate your efforts to support teachers, administrators, and School Boards in fulfilling our mission to educate the children of Louisiana. However, the Jefferson Parish School Board is extremely concerned that legislation aimed at rectifying perceived wrongs in specific cases arising out of a narrow set of facts is advancing through the legislature and will have serious and wide-reaching consequences for Louisiana school districts.
Jefferson Parish Schools is prohibited by La. R.S. 17:3914 and FERPA from discussing confidential student information without parental consent. Regarding the incident that occurred recently in our district and gave rise to proposed HB83, the district has not been given consent to discuss the facts of the case. This prevents the district from defending its actions, while at the same time, promoting a one-sided narrative.
We urge legislators to consider the broader implications of HB83 for teachers, administrators, and School Boards state-wide:
- Districts have student discipline policies and procedures that are aligned with state law. These regulations apply to student conduct on campus and during any other student sponsored activity, including the virtual classroom. HB83 casts doubt on the policies and procedures that are the foundation of school systems.
- HB83 will make it more difficult for teachers to maintain order in the classroom when they are already facing unprecedented challenges. Educators are working diligently to teach students in-person and virtually, and they must be able to expect appropriate behavior from all students to allow for a positive and orderly teaching and learning environment. Additionally, for every discipline issue that a teacher addresses, there are other students exposed to those actions. Those students and the parents of those students have every right to be in a safe, positive, and orderly learning environment.
- The legislature can create different rules or policies for virtual learning going forward, but it is fundamentally unfair to punish teachers, administrators, and School Boards for following the rules that were in place at the time.
- Under HB83, School Boards statewide will be overwhelmed with suspension appeals. This is not a rational or reasonable use of School Board resources.
- ·HB83 will result in increased litigation and will force School Boards to direct their limited financial resources to the defense of frivolous lawsuits, rather than directing those dollars to where they should go, students and teachers in the classrooms.
We urge legislators to reject HB83 because it will impede the success of schools and systems across the great state of Louisiana.
Tiffany Kuhn, President and School Board Member, Jefferson Parish School Board
Chad Nugent, Vice President and School Board Member, Jefferson Parish School Board
Larry Dale, School Board Member, Jefferson Parish School Board
Dr. James Gray, Superintendent, Jefferson Parish Schools
Governor John Bel Edwards met with Harrison and thanked him for working on the issue. His office issued a statement responding to the letter from Jefferson Parish school leaders:
"Of course, the governor will have to review the final version of the bill before signing, but given that virtual learning has become a significant part of the education process, he believes it is important to have good policies in place to address any issues that might arise as more students learn from home."