As punishment for possessing a water pistol, a 16 year old student in Alabama was expelled from her school for an entire year.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported that student of Prattville High School, Sara Allena “Laney” Nichols, was given a water pistol by another student. The toy pistol was black and may have looked like a real weapon at first glance. Apparently, Nichols put the water gun in her backpack and then placed it in the backseat of her car.
After seeing the exchange between Nichols and the other student, a bystander student reported the incident to authorities at PHS. Cameras at the school campus captured the exchange footage quite clearly. Nichols was then called to the office where she admitted to possession of the toy and told authorities it was in the back seat of her car.
Initially, Nichols was handed a ten-day suspension for possessing the toy. However, the Autauga County Board of Education later expelled her from all schools in the county, and prohibited from entering the school or participating in any school extra-curricular activities for that time period.
Nichol’s parents appear to be quite displeased with the harsh decision of the board.
“She’s 16 and doesn’t know what it means when you hear ‘gun’ on campus,” says mother Tara Herring. “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.”
The family has decide to pursue legal recourse with the help of attorney Julian McPhillips. He has currently written a letter to Superintendent Spence Agee, interim PHS principal Brock Dunn, Alabama State Board of Education member Ella Bell and state BOE attorneys James Ward and Juliana Dean.
In his letter, McPhillips argues that none of the other students who brought the toy gun to school have received any punishment beyond suspension. He asked that Nichols’ record of expulsion from the school be changed from expulsion to voluntary withdrawal, because her mother claims she was able to get her daughter out of the school before she could be expelled.
“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 March 10 letter to Bell, Ward and Dean reads. “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.”
However, if the school board fails to comply with the family’s requests, they will move forward with legal proceedings against the board.
“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, that Ms. Herring is very seriously considering a Title IV sex discrimination case against Prattville High School,” the April 10 letter reads.