A Colorado school suspended a 12-year-old boy for five days and sent the police to his home after a teacher saw him “waving” a toy gun during a virtual class.
Isaiah Elliott, a seventh-grader at Grand Mountain School in Colorado Springs, was attending an art class via distance learning on Aug. 27, his third day of school. His mother, Dani Elliott, told BuzzFeed News that at one point during the lesson, her son picked up a neon green toy gun and moved it from one side of his computer screen to the other.
Elliott said Isaiah often has trouble concentrating during classes because he has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She said the school “had been made well aware” of her son’s ADHD diagnosis and that Isaiah has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) plan on file.
After the class concluded, Elliott said she received an email from her son’s art teacher saying that Isaiah had been “extremely distracted” during the lesson.
The teacher wrote that there had been “a very serious issue with waving around a toy gun,” which she had reported to the school’s vice principal, according to Elliott.
Soon after getting the email, Elliott said she received a call from Grand Mountain School vice principal Keri Lindaman informing her that she had called school resource officers from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office to conduct a health and wellness check on Isaiah at the family's home.
“I had already explained to the teacher that it was a toy,” Elliott said. “I told [Lindaman] that it was a toy. She admitted that she knew it was a toy but Isaiah’s safety was of the utmost importance.”
Elliott said she couldn’t believe that the school administration had escalated the situation without informing her or her husband.
“An hour and a half after receiving [the teacher’s] email, I found out that the police were on their way,” she said.
According to a redacted copy of the incident report obtained by KOAA News, the teacher told Lindaman “she assumed it was a toy gun but was not certain.”
At the time, one of her son’s classmates was also at their home for virtual lessons.
After the vice principal’s call, Elliott said she told her husband, Curtis Elliott, who had briefly left their home, to “turn around and go straight home.”
“I had to logically think out, How do I protect my son? What do I have him do [when] playing with a toy in the privacy of your own home is a threat?" Elliott said.
When the El Paso County Sheriff’s officers arrived at the family home, they showed her husband footage from the incident that they had seen in the vice principal’s office and that was recorded on their body cameras.
Elliott said she had not seen the video because the school has so far refused to release it to her — but told BuzzFeed News that she was unaware that the school had been recording the virtual classes without informing parents, and that she never would have consented if she had known.
However, she said both her husband and Lindaman told her that the only thing Isaiah did was pick up the toy gun from the couch and move it from one side of the screen to the other.
In a statement posted to Facebook on Thursday, Grand Mountain School said there were “several inaccuracies being spread on social media” about “an incident that took place during distance learning" but declined to provide details, citing privacy laws.
"We never have or ever will condone any form of racism or discrimination," the statement said. "Safety will always be number one for our students and staff."
The school said it was not "our current practice" to record classes, but added that its distance learning platform had a feature to record classes.
"During our first week of school, we were still becoming familiar with the platform," the school said.
Isaiah’s official notice of suspension, which Elliott provided to BuzzFeed News, said that he was guilty of “violation of district or building policies or procedures” and “behavior on or off school property which is detrimental to the welfare, safety, or morals of other pupils or school personnel.”
“Isaiah displayed and waved a firearm facsimile during a virtual classroom on Aug. 27, 2020,” the document said.
Even though the incident occurred at their home, Elliott said the suspension notice was written in a way that made it sound like Isaiah had brought the toy gun to school and had disrupted his class.
“This could potentially impact his future... Look at everything that’s going on in the world today,” Eliott said. “God forbid something happens to my son down the road, people could look at this and decide he doesn’t deserve justice. I know that sounds extreme... It’s a very real reality for us.”
Elliott said she feared law enforcement officials arriving at their house for her son because Isaiah was the same age as Tamir Rice, who was shot dead by police in 2014 while playing with a toy gun in a park across from his family home.
“Parents of African American children go above and beyond to protect our children and ensure their future,” she said. “Until you’ve lived this life, until you’ve experienced discrimination and hardships that come along with being born a certain skin color… I thank God that it didn’t go another way and my son is still here with me."
Although Isaiah’s suspension ended on Friday, Elliott said she “has no intention of him going back” and will formally withdraw him from the school on Tuesday. She said he is currently on the waiting list at a charter school, and she has reached out to child education advocacy groups for resources to help Isaiah continue to learn at home.
“Having toys in my house is something I thought I never had to think of,” she said. “It never crossed my mind that toys could be seen as a threat.”