PRATTVILLE, Ala. (AP) – A family is up in arms after their 16-year-old daughter was expelled from Prattville High School for having a water gun on campus.
The Autauga County Board of Education expelled Sara Allena “Laney” Nichols in February for a year from all schools in the county and she was banned from school property and any extra-curricular activities for the same period. Her mother, Tara Herring, admits she had the water gun on campus, but questions the severity of the punishment.
Superintendent Spence Agee declined comment, citing system policy forbidding comments on any disciplinary actions relating to students.
“She’s 16 and doesn’t know what it means when you hear ‘gun’ on campus,” Herring said. “We admit what she did was wrong. I was hoping this could be a teachable moment for her. We’re not saying she should not have been punished. But she took a 10-day suspension. And then the board expelled her. We feel the expulsion is excessive.”
She said a male classmate handed the toy to her daughter “as a joke.” Herring admits the water pistol was black, and at first glance, it would be easy to think it was a real gun.
“But the second you picked it up, you know its plastic and a toy,” she said. “So we can understand the initial reaction, not knowing it wasn’t a real gun. But after the principal and school officials knew it was a water gun, things should never have progressed this far.”
The male classmate handed the water gun to Laney in the hall after seventh period on Jan. 27, Herring said. She put it in her backpack and then put it the back seat of her car. The exchange was recorded on the school’s surveillance cameras. The footage showed Laney with the toy, but not the male classmate, Herring said. On Jan. 31, another student went to school authorities and told them Laney had a gun.
“The little girl who went to the office was scared to death,” Herring said. “She saw the boy hand Laney the gun on Friday and didn’t know the gun wasn’t real. She did what she was supposed to do, she went to the authorities. They did what they were supposed to do when they were told a gun may be in the school.
“Laney admitted she had the gun and told them it was a water gun and in her car. She and the other boy were silly and made a mistake. But the punishment she received was completely out of line for what happened.”
The family has hired Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips, who has written letters to Agee and other school officials. The family wants any reference to the expulsion removed from Laney’s academic records, McPhillips’ letters said.
If the expulsion isn’t removed from Laney’s academic record, the family is considering filing legal action, the letter reads. The attorney said the family is considering a sexual discrimination case, claiming the male student who brought the water gun to school in January did so again this month and wasn’t expelled.
Things have been rough for the family since the drama began. Laney has been homeschooled since the expulsion. She and her younger sister are seeking acceptance at Autauga Academy.
“Laney has gone to Prattville schools since the second grade,” Herring said. “We had every belief that she would graduate from Prattville High and go on to college. My youngest daughter has been going to Prattville schools since kindergarten. We expected the same thing from her; graduate from Prattville High and then go to college.
“We loved the schools in Prattville. But we have lost all confidence in the school system after this.”
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