A year after two officers went to a Black seventh-grader’s home in Colorado Springs over a toy gun, the school district apologized to the family.
Widefield School District 3 handed the apology letter last month to the parents of 13-year-old Isaiah Elliott. CPR News obtained a copy.
It says, in part, “The District deeply regrets the impact this incident had on the Elliotts, and apologizes to Isaiah for any embarrassment or discomfort he may have experienced.”
On Aug. 27, 2020, as students, educators and parents across the state adjusted to pandemic remote learning, an art teacher spotted what she believed to be a toy gun on Isaiah Elliott’s screen.
The incident led to his suspension — which has since been reversed — and to school leaders sending two school resource officers to the boy’s home. Fearing for his son’s safety, Isaiah’s father Curtis Elliott rushed home and called his wife Danielle Elliott, who was at work.
“Our number one concern is Isaiah could have been the next Tamir Rice,” Danielle Elliott said. “Being shot over having a toy in the privacy of his own home. Being 12 years old, but being perceived as a threat.”
While Danielle Elliott is pleased with many of the changes the district has made since, she feels the letter came too late.
“Waiting almost a year to issue an apology to a child that had already endured so much was very insincere to me,” she told Colorado Matters. “As educators and parents — when a child makes mistakes — we teach them, ‘Take accountability for your actions, apologize when you're wrong, own up to it.’ So I just feel like the district should have held themselves to the same standard that we hold our children to.”
After removing their son from Widefield 3 last year, Danielle Elliott and her husband have placed him back in the district.
“Our main priority was what's best for Isaiah and what does Isaiah want and what does Isaiah need?” Danielle Elliott said.
She added that she is impressed by the new superintendent Kevin Duren.
“He shares the same passion for improving the culture of the district.”
Duren declined CPR’s request for an interview.
The district has instituted a number of changes to foster diversity, equity and inclusion. A spokesperson also says they are “reviewing and revising practices with law enforcement involvement in schools.”
But the biggest changes have come at the state level with what was dubbed “Isaiah’s Law,” which Gov. Jared Polis signed May 28. Among other things, it specifies that — for the purposes of online instruction — a student’s home is not legally the same as school property.
Isaiah attended the signing ceremony.
“He was even able to stand right beside Gov. Polis, so that was huge for him. I think his head blew up to, I don't know how big after that,” Danielle Elliott said.
She added that other states are considering similar legislation.
As for the toy gun, his mother says Isaiah still has it. And many many others.
“When this incident went viral, we had people from around the country sending Isaiah Nerf guns, custom dart guns, all kinds of toys,” she said. “It's a hobby that he's definitely enjoyed. We like to have Nerf gun fights and build forts. Things that normal teenage boys like to do.”
But with Tamir Rice ever on their minds, Danielle and Curtis Elliott implore their son not to play with his toy guns outside or in online settings.
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