El Paso County 12-year-old speaks about suspension for briefly showing toy gun in Zoom class

Problem Solvers

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KDVR) – The boy who was suspended for five days for handling his toy gun on-camera during a Zoom school session said he was “super scared” when two sheriff’s deputies came to his house to investigate.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if they were going to bust down the door,” said Isaiah Elliott, 12. “My heart was beating super fast.”

Elliott was suspended from Grand Mountain School near Colorado Springs after the incident on Aug. 27.

“I’m a good kid. I have a hard time trying to stay focused,” he said.

His parents told the FOX31 Problem Solvers Elliott has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“I didn’t mean to put it (the “Zombie Hunter” toy gun) across the camera or anything. I just wanted to move it across the couch,” said Elliott, who explained that he followed the teacher’s instructions when she asked him to put it away during class.

Igor Raykin, an education and civil rights attorney in the Denver area, said the discipline decisions in Elliott’s case and in another similar case in Jefferson County are examples of a pattern of over-criminalization in Colorado schools.

“When you’re a kid that young, that’s really intimidating, and that can rupture the trust that these kids and the parents have with the school district,” said Raykin. “There was no reason to call the police. There was no reason to suspend anyone. It was a complete overreaction. Good sense was out the window.”

The FOX31 Problem Solvers reached out to the school boards in both the Widefield District #3, where Elliott attends school, and in the JeffCo Public Schools district, where another boy, 11-year-old Maddox Blow, was suspended from Bell Middle School for handling his Airsoft gun during Zoom class, but no one responded to our messages as of the writing of this story.

“I understand the desire that school districts have for safety, but that has to be balanced out with good sense, and it’s obvious that no good sense was applied over here. In both situations, the schools clearly overreacted. They could have just contacted the parents and said, ‘Hey, just wanted to check. We saw something on video that’s a bit concerning. Could you tell us about what’s going on?'” said Raykin.

He recommended districts send a video message home to parents, reminding them that children should keep their toys out of sight during online learning sessions.

Julie Adams-Blow, Maddox’s mother, said she has had anxiety for several days after her son was disciplined.

“I don’t understand all of this,” she said. “What is he learning from this? He made a mistake and picked up a toy gun, and a phone call could have been made, and that’s that.  That’s scary enough,” she said.

Adams-Blow said the school sent home a safety plan that includes restrictions on words her son can use, including “Airsoft” and “Nerf.” The safety plan also restricts school-related activities.

“He’s being treated like he did something wrong, really wrong,” said Adams-Blow, who wondered whether anyone at the school would reach out to her son to rebuild his trust. 

“He made a mistake, and it was way overblown. And he missed out on a week of making friends and getting to know teachers in his first year of middle school. What are they going to do to mend that?”

Adams-Blow said she teaches second grade through Google Meet in another district and encourages the children in her class to show their toys to their classmates if they can be seen on camera.

“I see Barbies being picked up and Godzillas coming in the screen. I actually embrace that and have kids share their toys. That way it’s not a bad thing. It’s just – we’re in a different place. We have to learn how to learn in this new environment,” she said. “We’re in our homes. Kids are in their bedrooms. They’re right next to their toy box. Kids fiddle and they don’t always pay attention to what’s being captured or filmed. That doesn’t mean that they’re a criminal or a threat. They’re just kids playing with toys…and we really haven’t had these conversations about what is appropriate to have in your room.”

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