On Aug. 27, the seventh grader, Isaiah Elliot, was attending an online art class when a teacher saw Isaiah pick up a toy gun and move it across his computer screen. The toy was a neon green and black handgun with an orange tip with the words “Zombie Hunter” printed on the side.
Isaiah attends Grand Mountain, a K-8 grade school in the Widefield District #3, outside of Colorado Springs.
The teacher notified the school principal who suspended Isaiah for five days and called the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a welfare check on the boy without calling his parents first.
“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,” said Isaiah’s father, Curtis Elliott, in an exclusive interview with NewsNation affiliate KDVR.
Curtis’ wife Dani Elliott said she was furious that the school notified her only after deputies were on their way to the family’s home.
“For them to go as extreme as suspending him for five days, sending the police out, having the police threaten to press charges against him because they want to compare the virtual environment to the actual in-school environment is insane,” said Dani Elliott.
KDVR obtained the sheriff’s report and it confirms the teacher “said she assumed it was a toy gun but was not certain.”
“If her main concern was his safety, a two-minute phone call to me or my husband could easily have alleviated this whole situation to where I told them it was fake,” said Dani Elliott.
Neither parent knew the school was recording their son’s virtual class but said the district refused to provide the video to them when they requested it.
A sheriff’s deputy recorded the video on his body cam and showed it to the boy’s father. Curtis Elliott said the video shows his son sitting at home on his sofa when he momentarily picks up the toy gun on the right side of where he’s sitting and moves it to his left side, not realizing that in the process his teacher and fellow students saw him move the gun across the computer screen.
“Just flashed across the school computer screen for maybe one or two seconds at the most,” said Curtis Elliott.
“It would’ve been a lot easier for me to understand if my son had made a threat,” said Dani Elliott.
The Elliott’s said their son was traumatized when deputies said the incident could have led to criminal charges and might in the future if he were to do something similar again.
“He was in tears when the cops came,” said Curtis Elliot. “He was just in tears. He was scared. We all were scared. I literally was scared for his life.”
Administration with the school district refused an interview request from NewsNation affiliate KDVR but did email a statement:
“Privacy laws prevent us from sharing students’ personal information which includes disciplinary action,” the statement reads. “We follow all school board policies whether we are in-person learning or distance learning. We take the safety of all our students and staff very seriously. Safety is always our number one priority.”
Isaiah’s parents say safety was never a true issue and suspending their son, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has learning disabilities, in no way helps his education.
“I definitely feel they crossed the line,” said Dani Elliot. “They were extreme with their punishment, especially sending the police out and traumatizing my son and my family.”
The district is now receiving dozens of critical comments on its Facebook page. In response, the district denies its response was based on race or discrimination.
The district wrote on its Facebook page, “The platforms we use for distance learning have the feature to record classes for educational purposes. During our first week of school, we were still becoming familiar with the platform. It is not our current practice to record classes at this time. Parents will be notified if that changes. We will continue to support all families in our school to make sure they feel safe, respected, and educated.”
Isaiah’s parents say if the district wants to respect families, it should show common sense and call parents if there is a concern with a child’s behavior.
“The virtual setting is not the same as the school setting,” said Curtis Elliot. “He did not take the toy gun to school. He’s in the comfort of his own home. It’s a toy.”
NewsNation affiliate KDVR contributed to this report.