16-year old girl expelled for having a toy in school

PRATTVILLE, AL— “We loved the schools in Prattville. But we have lost all confidence in the school system after this,” says Tara Herring, mother of 16-year-old Sara Allena “Laney” Nichols who was expelled from Prattville High School for having a water gun at school.

The Autauga County Board of Education expelled Laney in February.  She is prohibited from attending any county school for one year. Also for that 12-month period, she’s unable to be on school property or engage in extra-curricular activities.

Herring admits that Laney had a water gun on campus, but she doesn’t think the punishment is appropriate.

“She’s 16 and doesn’t know what it means when you hear ‘gun’ on campus,” Herring explains. “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.”

There is no explanation to report from the school or board.  Superintendent Spence Agee said BOE policy prevents him from commenting on disciplinary actions against students.

Herring describes the water pistol was black and admits that at first glance it might look like a real gun. She says it is obvious to anyone holding it that its plastic and a toy, however.

 “So we can understand the initial reaction, not knowing it wasn’t a real gun,” she said. “But after the principal and school officials knew it was a water gun, things should never have progressed this far.”

Laney told her mother that a male classmate handed her the toy “as a joke” in the hall after seventh period class on Jan. 27. It was placed in her backpack for a period of time before she put it the backseat of her car. Footage from the schools surveillance cameras show Laney with the toy, but the male classmate is not on camera, Herring said.

On Jan. 31, PHS authorities were alerted that Laney had a gun by another student.

Herring says it was a female student that saw the exchange who reported it. “The little girl who went to the office was scared to death.  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.”

Student Laney

Herring admits that the school also did what was required when hearing that a gun was on campus.

When confronted, Herring says, “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.”

Laney’s family has hired attorney Julian McPhillips to help them get the expulsion removed from Laney’s academic record. In letters McPhillips has written to Agee, interim PHS principal Brock Dunn, Alabama State Board of Education member Ella Bell and state BOE attorneys James Ward and Juliana Dean, he makes his argument for Laney’s records to be cleared.

In a March 10 letter to Bell, Ward and Dean, McPhillips writes:

“(Laney) was the naïve and unwitting victim of a scheme (for lack of a better word) by several boys to set her up and make her take the fall for a water-gun one of the boys brought to Prattville High School on Friday, January 27, 2017.  Yet the young man who brought the water gun to school… escaped without any discipline whatsoever. There were other boys who knew about what was going on, and may have participated in the scheme, yet none of them were disciplined either.”

“Young Sara Allena Nichols now, at the age of only 16, has a ‘scarlet letter E’ attached to her forehead, figuratively speaking, because the EXPULSION now attached to her name will follow her to other schools and quite possibly to job applications. The potential damage for this young lady is enormous … I trust, hope and believe that you three have a great power of persuasion and actual legal authority to convince the Autauga County School Board and its Superintendent to retract the expulsion and change it to ‘voluntary withdrawal.’ After all, that is what my client, Ms. Herring, says actually occurred. She actually withdrew her child from Prattville High School before there was a ruling of expulsion.”

The family is considering further legal action if the expulsion isn’t removed from Laney’s academic record.  They are also “seriously considering a Title IV sex discrimination case against Prattville High School,” according to McPhillips.

The sex discrimination case stems from reports that the same male student who allegedly gave the water gun to Laney in  January also brought a water gun to school in April.  McPhillips notes the incident in his April 10 letter to Bell, Ward and Dean. He says another male student was involved in the April incident and that the two male students only received “in-school suspension, not expulsion.”

“It has become such a source of insatiable chagrin, seeing her daughter Sara Nichols, innocent of bringing a toy/replica gun to school the first time, and yet receiving a far more serious disciplinary action than those responsible for both occurrence,” McPhillips’s April 10 letter reads.

Herring says she believed Laney and her younger sister would attend Prattville schools throughout their school years.  Her expectations were that both girls would, “graduate from Prattville High and then go to college.”

Now, they just want an end to the ordeal.

“We just want her record and name cleared,” Herring says.

Although Laney has been home-schooled since being expelled, the family is working to get her and her younger sister into Autauga Academy.

H/T: Montgomery Advisor

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