The guy dressed in the suit and tie, smiling and shaking a bevy of hands, caught Grayson Thomas' eye.
Grayson wasn't alone. Teachers and other students at Stevenson Ranch Elementary School couldn't take their eyes off the lunchtime visitor, either.
Grayson, a fifth-grader at the campus near Santa Clarita, Ca., noticed the gentleman's outward characteristics: Tall and lean. Good looking. Charismatic. Charming. Energetic.
Then he made a fatal error: Grayson, 11, pulled a little "made you look" joke on a schoolmate seated next to him, saying something along the lines of "Obama's visiting our school today," referring to the magnetic figure holding court nearby.
It wasn't Obama, of course. But from Grayson's point of view, Chris Schauble—morning co-anchor of KTLA 5's TV news program in Los Angeles—did possess a demeanor and countenance similar to the president's.
According to Grayson's dad, Darren Thomas (who provided the previous details), what happened next was scary: Word of his son's Obama-Schauble comparison spread to Schauble's daughter, Shelbi, who was sharing lunch with her newsman father. And Shelbi was uncomfortable with Grayson's statement, saying it felt racist.
Then a teacher was summoned, then the principal, Candace Fleece, then the Newhall School District superintendent, Marc Winger. And that very afternoon, Nov. 4, Grayson was kicked out of Stevenson Ranch for good, his father says, for implying that all black men look alike.
The Blaze asked school officials and Schauble for comment to little avail. Schauble did not respond to interview requests. School board president Suzan T. Solomon noted "regret" over "misinformation out in the press" regarding the ordeal but declined further comment. Fleece's office referred the matter to Winger, who offered that "there are two sides to every story" but declined further comment, citing student confidentiality issues. He provided the following statement:
The Newhall School District regrets that untrue statements have appeared in the media. The District adheres to the privacy requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) as amended (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), California Education Code sections 49062 et seq., Article 1, Section 1 of the California Constitution and all other applicable federal and state laws and regulations that safeguard a student’s educational records, privacy and confidentiality.
Winger apparently revealed a bit more to a local radio news site, which quoted him as saying, "It's not what [Grayson] said, it's how he said it...I can tell you that there was history and that the student had been counseled and we met with the parents."
It's besides the point, says Darren Thomas, that neither Winger, Fleece, nor Solomon—not even Schauble or his daughter—were within earshot to evaluate "how" his son originally stated his Obama-lookalike comment. The kicker, Darren says, is that school officials had no basis for determining that Grayson's comparison implied that all black men look alike. And then they punished him.
"How can you assume the intent of a child?" Darren asked. "This is the thought police. [They're] not God; [their] bureaucratic brain[s have] melted into a mush of political correctness."
Darren first spoke to Principal Fleece, whom he says assured him that Grayson's past misbehavior—which included stealing school supplies from a campus store with other students and minor classroom outbursts—had nothing to do with the decision to permanently kick him out of the school.
Rather, Darren recalls Fleece explaining, Grayson made the Obama-Schauble comparison in a "teasing" and "mocking" way...and the school deals with racism very seriously. (Darren adds that Fleece contacted Schauble and apologized for Grayson's remark.)
Darren Thomas says he next spoke with Winger, whom he said backed what Fleece told him and added that he was doing Grayson a "favor" by not noting racism on the paperwork revoking his interdistrict permit, which "returns" Grayson to his school district of residence. ("Failure to maintain acceptable behavior" is one reason the Newhall School District stipulates for revoking such a permit.)
Darren says he "begged" Winger to note racism on the paperwork, adding that "if it were that huge of a problem, wouldn’t you let the next school know?"
According to Darren, he asked the California Department of Education to open an investigation on possible civil rights violations in regard to Grayson's situation, and he may pursue legal action as well. (Darren says Liberty Counsel, which handles civil rights cases from a religious freedom and family values perspective, been in touch with him.)
Darren says he met with school board president Solomon last night, but a resolution—namely, a public apology from Fleece and Winger—seems remote. The Thomas' aren't interested in Grayson returning to Stevenson Ranch, either. (He now attends Tesoro Del Valle Elementary in Valencia's neighboring Saugus Union School District.) In the end Darren says he hopes—at the very least—that similar incidents don't befall other students.
"[They]'ve empowered a young girl, and all kids connected with this girl," Darren says, "[to believe] that 'If I don't like you, all I have to do is say racism and you're done.'" (He said the student who told Schauble's daughter about Grayson's comment does not like Grayson and, in fact, sent him harassing text messages the following Monday, Nov. 7, celebrating his dismissal. Darren says he's turning over the texts to law enforcement and school authorities.)
"Is it because my son is from Alabama originally?" Darren says he asked Winger. "Is it because Schauble is someone of importance? In Grayson's group of friends, every single one of them is of a different ethnicity—Korean, Vietnamese, black, white, Hispanic. Our home has always been open to a wide range of people."
That includes Julian Eubanks, a childhood friend of Grayson's mother who bunked with the Thomas family for the first six months of 2011 while he looked for acting work.
"As a man of color and a close friend to this family, I am [offended] that such a grotesque accusation could be made against any of them, especially my 'G-Man'," Eubanks recently commented on a blog. "The so called adults in control of this situation have handled it horribly...they need to intervene and clear this young man’s name."