Prior to her yearlong expulsion, the student, Sara Allena “Laney” Nichols, attended Prattville High School Prattville, a town of 35,229 just northwest of Montgomery.
The incident leading to Nichols’s suspension occurred on Friday, January 27, reports the Montgomery Advertiser.
Nichols and her mother, Tara Herring, say the teen girl did not bring the water gun to school. Instead, the mother and daughter claim, a male classmate gave Nichols the water gun to Nichols “as a joke.”
Nichols put the water gun in her backpack, and then in the backseat of her car.
The trouble started for Nichols on the following Tuesday when a concerned student told officials at Prattville High that she saw Nichols with a gun.
School officials found school surveillance camera footage showing Nichols carrying the water gun. The footage does not show Nichols receiving the gun from the male student.
The Autauga County Board of Education expelled Nichols in February. She is banned from entering all schools in the taxpayer-funded school district and from all extracurricular activities.
Herring, the mother, acknowledges that her daughter had the water gun on campus. She also concedes that the water gun was black, which made the plastic toy somewhat easier to mistake for a real gun. At the same time, the mad mother thinks the year-long expulsion is ridiculously severe.
“She’s 16 and doesn’t know what it means when you hear ‘gun’ on campus,” Herring told the Advertiser. “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.”
“After the principal and school officials knew it was a water gun, things should never have progressed this far,” Herring also told the Montgomery newspaper.
“The second you picked it up, you know its plastic and a toy,” Herring also said.
“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.”
Autauga County school district superintendent Spence Agee refused to comment about the expulsion, citing student privacy concerns.
A local attorney, Julian McPhillips, is now representing Nichols’s family in an effort to reduce her punishment.
“(Laney) was the naive 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,” reads a letter from McPhillips to attorneys representing Prattville’s board of education.
McPhillips observes that the student who allegedly brought the water gun to school in the first place as well as “other boys who knew about what was going on” “escaped without any discipline whatsoever.”
The family is demanding that the school district retract the lengthy expulsion and wipe it from Nichols’s academic record.
The family is also contemplating legal action against the school district, in part because Nichols has plans to go to college. Herring said she hopes a lawsuit is not necessary.
“We just want her record and name cleared,” Herring told the Advertiser.
“We loved the schools in Prattville. But we have lost all confidence in the school system after this.”
The incident in Prattville is the latest incident in a long trend involving school officials going apoplectic over things that are not weapons but sort of resemble weapons because of zero-tolerance policies.