In a country where the right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution, the anxiety surrounding gun-like toys has always seemed strange – especially when the toy gun is clearly a brightly-colored plastic toy that hardly resembles a real firearm.
And now, a Colorado middle schooler has been suspended from school for briefly holding a toy gun at his home, nowhere near his actual school, while logged into his virtual class.
Isaiah Elliott, 12, is a student at Grand Mountain K8, a grade school just south of Colorado Springs.
On Thursday, Aug. 27, the seventh grader was sitting at his computer attending his online art class when his teacher briefly saw a neon green and black handgun flash across the screen. The orange-tipped toy had the words “Zombie Hunter” printed on the side.
The teacher quickly notified a school administrator, who suspended the boy for five days and called the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a welfare check on the child without so much as notifying his parents.
“It was really frightening and upsetting for me as a parent, especially as the parent of an African-American young man, especially given what’s going on in our country right now,” said the boy’s father, Curtis Elliott, in an interview with KDVR.
According to the sheriff’s report, the art teacher “said she assumed it was a toy gun but was not certain.” In recorded footage from the class held on Zoom, Isaiah can be seen flashing the toy across the screen “for maybe one or two seconds at the most.”
Isaiah is also traumatized after sheriff’s deputies told him that his behavior could have led to criminal charges, the parents say. The Elliotts now plan on transferring him to another school.
“It would’ve been a lot easier for me to understand if my son had made a threat,” said Isaiah’s mother, Danielle Elliott, who is furious over her son’s ordeal.
“For them to go as extreme as suspending him for five days, sending the police out, having the police threaten to press charges against him because they want to compare the virtual environment to the actual in-school environment is insane,” she explained.
“If her main concern was his safety, a two-minute phone call to me or my husband could easily have alleviated this whole situation to where I told them it was fake,” Danielle Elliott added.
The parents also weren’t allowed to view the video recording of the incident, which district officials refused to disclose following their requests.
A sheriff’s deputy, however, showed the boy’s father the footage that he had recorded with his body-worn camera. In the footage, Isaiah Elliott can be seen momentarily lifting the toy that was sitting at his right side and moving it to his left side, inadvertently flashing the toy in front of his camera.
He was clearly not brandishing the toy gun or even attempting to show it to his virtual classmates, Curtis Elliott said. The parents maintain that the response was entirely disproportionate to the supposed offense – especially when the school involved police in the matter.
“He was in tears when the cops came. He was just in tears. He was scared. We all were scared. I literally was scared for his life,” said Curtis Elliott. “The virtual setting is not the same as the school setting … He did not take the toy gun to school. He’s in the comfort of his own home. It’s a toy.”
The parents still shudder at the thought of law enforcement officers potentially overreacting to the possibility of a young Black boy wielding a firearm.
“I definitely feel they crossed the line,” said Danielle Elliott. “They were extreme with their punishment, especially sending the police out and traumatizing my son and my family.”
“Especially with the current events, with Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy getting killed over a toy gun, you know these things are very scary and they’re very real,” she told KOAA in a separate interview. “This is not the first time my son has faced racism or discrimination or anything like that.”
The school district is now being inundated on social media by critical comments over the matter. The district has denied its response was driven by racial discrimination but admits that it recorded the virtual class without parental consent.
“We follow all school board policies whether we are in-person learning or distance learning,” the district said in a statement. “We take the safety of all our students and staff very seriously. Safety is always our number one priority.”
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