Families of suspended BB gun students to talk settlement with Jefferson Parish schools | Courts | #students | #parents

Attorneys for the Jefferson Parish School Board and the families of two students who were suspended after they were seen handling BB guns during virtual lessons have been ordered to begin settlement negotiations, according to court records.

A conference is scheduled May 18 in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Michael North. “The parties shall be prepared to enter into meaningful and good-faith settlement negotiations at the conference,” the court order says.

The American Civil Liberties Union has joined the legal fight in federal court over the fate of Ka’Mauri Harrison, a Harvey fourth grader who …

The prospect of a settlement marks a sharp turn in the case, which has been contentious since news of the suspensions broke in the fall. School Board leaders and school administrators have stood firm behind the teachers and administrators who at first recommended the two boys for expulsion then reduced the discipline to suspensions, six days for one student and three days for the other. The school system has asked a federal judge to declare a new Louisiana state law, passed due to the suspensions, unconstitutional and has vowed to fight the families’ lawsuits to the end.

Recently, however, cracks have developed in the School Board façade. Last week, board member Billy North questioned the amount of public money being spent to defend the suits: more than $160,000 in just a few months. On Wednesday, board member Tiffany Kuhn said settlement talks were “a conversation we should have.”

Attorney Chelsea Cusimano, who represents the families of Harvey fourth grader Ka’Mauri Harrison and Grand Isle sixth grader Tomie Brown, said Wednesday she had offered to settle for an amount she would not disclose. But the offer spurred the agreement to enter mediation, she said.   

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“It was recently brought to our attention that some of the School Board members wanted to enter into good-faith settlements negotiations in the Brown and Harrison matters,” Cusimano said. According to the court order filed Wednesday, such an offer and response is a condition for holding a settlement conference.

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Board President Chad Nugent did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

The cases have drawn a widespread attention since September, when Ka’Mauri Harrison’s suspension became public. The Woodmere Elementary student was taking an online exam from his room at home when he disappeared for a moment and reappeared holding a BB gun, which he set beside his chair with the barrel still visible. His teacher tried to get his attention, but because he was taking a test, he had muted her.

Moments later, he was disconnected from the class. Later that day, his parents were informed he would be punished. The school principal, following policy that forbade weapons on school property or at school-sponsored events, recommended expulsion. A school system hearing officer reduced that to six days.

In a similar case, Grand Isle sixth grader Tomie Brown saw his expulsion recommendation knocked down to three days by the same hearing officer.

Cusimano, who represents both families, argued that the students were denied proper due process and that their rights – both students were in their own homes when they handled the BB guns – had been violated. In addition to groups such as the ACLU, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and the NRA, the case quickly drew the attention of state lawmakers, who unanimously passed a new law affording extra appeals to students recommended for expulsion and ordering school systems to write policies specifically for virtual instruction. 

North said this week that he welcomed news of settlement talks. 

“If this is the beginning of the end and we can start being concerned about the classroom and educating children …, I’m all for this step,” he said. 

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