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Colorado school suspended 7th grader for waving airsoft gun during virtual learning

School resource officer was sent to boy's home
Posted at 11:04 AM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 11:08:48-04

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.— A local family is troubled by the way their child's school handled a situation last week after their 12-year-old son waved a toy gun at his web camera during e-learning.

The school suspended the boy but and also sent a sheriff's deputy to the house to investigate.

The incident happened last Thursday during an art class at Grand Mountain School, a K-8 school in Widefield School District 3. Danielle Elliott received an email from the teacher, saying that her son, Isaiah, had trouble paying attention during the lesson and was waving around what appeared to be a toy gun.

Elliott reassured the teacher that the gun was just a toy, but then she learned that the school resource officer was being brought in.

"She told me she had to contact the principal because of it," Elliott said. "The next thing you know, the principal is calling me to notify me that the cops had been called and they were on their way to our house."

Elliott provided a photo of the Umarex "Zombie Hunter" airsoft BB gun her son had held during class. The gun has a green barrel with an orange disc at the nozzle's end, which indicates it is a toy.

Deputy Steven Paddack of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is the school resource officer at Grand Mountain. He wrote in his report that the teacher, Danielle Selke, had told the vice principal that she "assumed it was a toy gun but was not certain."

Paddack then watched a video recording from the virtual class in which Isaiah and another unidentified student were shown.

"The video clearly shows the boys playing around and (NAME REDACTED) pointing what appears to be a black handgun at the screen and pulling the trigger," Paddack wrote.

Paddack then went to the homes of both students. He met with Isaiah and his father. Elliott was at work at the time but said she was worried sick about the encounter.

Isaiah is African-American and the same age as Tamir Rice — the boy who was fatally shot by police officers in Cleveland in 2014 while holding a toy gun. She couldn't get the similarities to her own child out of her mind.

"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 said. "This is not the first time my son has faced racism or discrimination or anything like that."

Elliott explained that the school requires students to keep their web cameras turned on during virtual learning for attendance purposes. She was surprised to learn that the web camera sessions are recorded. She doesn't remember giving consent to the district to record the class.

Isaiah and the other student were not charged in the incident. Paddack wrote that he explained the seriousness of the situation to the students and informed them that they could be charged with Interference with an Educational Institution.

Elliott said the ordeal was traumatizing for Isaiah. She's since removed him from the school and is looking to enroll elsewhere.

"If the school was so concerned with my son's safety, why not just call me first," she said. "If they were so concerned with his safety, why call the police and give them this preconceived notion that my son is some sort of trouble maker?"

Samantha Briggs, the communications director for Widefield District 3, said in a statement that privacy laws prevent administrators from sharing personal information of students, which includes disciplinary action.

"I can tell you that we follow all school board policies, whether we are in-person learning or distance learning. Safety will always be number one for our students and staff," Briggs said. "We utilize our School Resource Officers, who are trusted and trained professionals who work in our schools with our children, to ensure safety."

This story was originally published by Andy Koen on KOAA in Colorado Springs, Colorado.