EL PASO COUNTY — At the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, parents of a 12-year-old El Paso County boy say he was suspended after a teacher saw him with what appeared to be a weapon in a virtual class. It turned out to be a toy gun.
According to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, the teacher did not know if the gun was real or not. School resource officers went to the boy's home to check. Isaiah Elliott's mother, Danielle, said he was suspended for five days. "I'm thinking, in my head, Isaiah's going to open the door, nobody's home, he might have the toy gun in his hand... His voice trembling through the phone, saying 'mommy, you're scaring me.' It was terrifying, it's something that I never wanted to have him experience, and then again, it was his first interaction with law enforcement," said Danielle.
In body-worn camera footage of the incident released by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, a school resource officer said they would not have spoken with Isaiah unless a parent was present.
The scariest thing is knowing that, I see my child as exactly that: a kid. A child. Goofy. Innocent. However, one, he looks a lot older than he is, and two, people perceive him as a threat. At what point does a child go from being seen as cute and innocent to being a threat.
Danielle said a lot has happened in the past year, and the family recently had their final settlement meeting with Widefield School District 3 where they were given a letter. This was on August 16, 2021, a week before school started, according to Danielle. Danielle said the family has been pushing for an apology since the incident in August of 2020, and that this letter did not provide any closure for Isaiah.
In part, the letter states: "The District deeply regrets the impact this incident had on the Elliotts, and apologizes to Isaiah for any embarrassment or discomfort he may have experienced."
Danielle feels the letter, which came around a year after Isaiah's suspension, was insincere. "You could tell it was precisely written toward their favor, rather than directed toward a 13-year-old child... We're supposed to teach our children that, 'hey, take responsibility for your actions. If you do something wrong, apologize, make it right.' So, I guess I expected the district to be held to that same standard," said Danielle.
A spokesperson for Widefield School District 3 did not have a copy of the letter available to provide to News5. Danielle showed her copy of the letter, and also sent a photograph of the paper.
Danielle said the suspension was removed from Isaiah's disciplinary record, and that the district has hired an Equity, Diversion, and Inclusion firm to conduct an audit. Among other initiatives, she said the district is also revising their policies related to school resource officers.
According to Danielle, the family finally came to a settlement agreement where the district will continue to pursue such issues, especially in online learning environments and when it comes to racial minorities or children with disabilities.
The incident spurred the family to pursue what they see as necessary political change. "Isaiah's Law," which is HB21-1059, was signed into law in May of 2021. "Pretty much just puts other prohibitions in place to where schools can't overstep their jurisdictions as to what we can and cannot do as parents in our home," said Danielle.
Specifically, a school providing online instruction to students is prohibited from:
- Prohibiting the online student's parent from being in the same room while the student participates in online instruction, but the person leading the instruction may require a disruptive parent to leave the area of online instruction;
- Requiring an online student to use a camera while participating in online instruction if the student's technology does not allow for use of a camera; and
- Suspending or expelling an online student based on an item observed in the student's physical environment or the student's behavior while participating in online instruction, unless the behavior constitutes one of the statutory grounds for suspension or expulsion.
The law also distinguishes between the "premises, facilities, and buildings of an educational institution" from an online student's home, "for purposes of the crime of interference with staff, faculty, or students of educational institutions."