A Colorado school called the police on a 12-year-old student last month for allegedly playing with a toy gun during an art class on Zoom. He was suspended for a week and now has a record with the county sheriff’s department.
The incident happened on August 27, when a teacher at the Grand Mountain School, a pre-K-8 public school near Colorado Springs, said she saw a student flashing the gun, which is neon green and black with an orange tip and the words “Zombie Hunter” printed on it. The school notified the El Paso County (Colorado) Sheriff’s Department, which conducted a welfare check on the student.
The student involved was a Black seventh-grader who has ADHD. “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,” the student’s father, Curtis Elliott, told KDVR last week.
Dani Elliott, the student’s mother, was only informed of the incident when the police were on the way to their house, and she was frustrated that the school didn’t attempt to contact her or her husband first, she told the Washington Post.
The incident echoes the 2014 police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with an airsoft gun at a Cleveland park. “He was in tears when the police came,” Dani Elliott told the Washington Post of her son. “He was very scared.”
There are conflicting accounts of what happened during the class, which was recorded via Zoom video and later recorded with a body camera by the school resource officer assigned to the case. Officer Steven Paddack said the video of the class, which was recorded by the school, “clearly shows” the Elliotts’ son and another boy “pointing what appears to be a black handgun at the computer screen and pointing the trigger,” in a police report obtained by KOAA.
Curtis Elliott, however, said that the video only shows his son moving the gun from one side to another, he told the Washington Post. Before Paddack left the Elliott home, he “verified” that the gun was a toy, he said in his report.
The school has declined to answer questions about the incident but said in a statement posted to Facebook that there were “several inaccuracies spreading on social media.” The school also responded to complaints about its classes being recorded, saying that wasn’t “current practice” and blaming the recording feature’s usage in this case on a lack of familiarity with the platform.
“We never have or ever will condone any form of racism or discrimination. Safety will always be number one for our students and staff,” the school said. “We utilize our School Resource Officers, who are trusted and trained professionals who work in our schools with our children, to ensure safety.”
After a summer of protests against police brutality, several local governments operating public school systems, including Denver, Minneapolis, and Portland, have severed agreements with police to provide school resource officers. Officials in the Colorado Springs area have thus far not followed suit.
Though police threatened charges, the Elliotts’ son was ultimately handed a five-day suspension and a mark on his disciplinary record, infuriating the Elliotts. The school refused to drop the suspension or the mark on their son’s disciplinary record, the parents told the Post. “Black children cannot have that sort of thing on their record. You are reducing his chances at success,” Dani Elliott said she told school administrators.
The Elliotts have pulled their son out of the school and put him on a waitlist for a charter school, they told the Post.
Cover: Fox 31 Denver