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BB gun bill to redefine virtual school discipline policies gains momentum in Louisiana

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star
Ka'Mauri Harrison, a Jefferson Parish fourth-grader, was suspended while virtual learning from home because a teacher saw his BB gun. Harrison testified before the Senate Education Committee October 19, 2020, in favor of a bill that would require school districts to redefine their disciplinary policies for virtual learning.

A bill spawned by the suspension of a Louisiana fourth-grader because his teacher saw the student's BB gun while he was participating in virtual learning at home won approval from a Senate panel Monday.

Ka'Mauri Harrison, a 9-year-old Jefferson Parish student, was initially recommended for expulsion before his punishment was reduced to a six-day suspension after he moved a BB gun out of the way of his younger brother while Ka'Mauri was taking a test online.

House Bill 83's author Rep. Troy Romero, R-Jennings, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and thousands of supporters on social media rallied behind Harrison.

Romero's bill would require school districts to create new discipline policies to apply to virtual learning and allow students and families to appeal school suspensions to the school board. Only expulsions can be appealed to school boards now.

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Ka'Mauri's father Nyron Harrison said the principal "told me they were treating Ka'Mauri's situation as if he had brought a gun to school; that my home is an extension of the school," he said. "I felt like it wasn't the same thing.

"I thank God I had common sense and stood by my son. This bill is tremendous. It not only gets my son's record cleared; it's big for everybody. I hope the bill is passed and no other child's family is having to deal we what we're dealing with."

Ka'Mauri kept it simple while saying he hoped to play basketball when he grows up and noted his favorite player is LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Thank you for helping kids like me," he told the committee.

Ka'Mauri Harrison was a hit with lawmakers.

"You're an impressive fellow," said Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton. "I wanted to tell you I have ice cream in my office."

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Landry's solicitor general Liz Murrill testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the attorney general.

"This addresses a problem none of us would have anticipated (before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted an expansion of virtual learning from home); that all policies at school would apply to the home," Murrill said. "We're asking (districts) to revise policies and think about what they need to be when applied to the house."

"I thank the bill's namesake — Ka'Mauri Harrison — who has shown courage and maturity well beyond his years," Landry said in a statement.

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The full House has already granted unanimous passage of what would be known as the Ka'Mauri Harrison Act if it passes the Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Wes Watts of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and a representative of the Jefferson Parish School District spoke against the bill.

Watts said allowing appeals of suspensions could create a bottleneck that could overwhelm school boards.

The bill next moves to the full Senate to for debate.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.