A 16-year-old Alabama girl was caught by teachers with a water pistol, and was expelled from the school for an entire year as a result.
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Sara Allena “Laney” Nichols, a student of Prattville High School, was handed a water pistol by a fellow student. The toy was black, and may have looked like a real firearm upon a cursory glance. Nichols put the water pistol in her backpack, and then put it in the back seat her car.
A student reported to PHS authorities that Nichols had a gun after seeing the exchange with the boy. Camera monitors within the school captured footage of the exchange, and Nichols was called to the office where she confessed to having the toy in the back seat of her car.
Originally, Nichols was faced with a ten day suspension for having possession of the toy, but later on the Autauga County Board of Education expelled her from all schools within the county, and banned her from school property and any extra-curricular school activities during that time period.
Nichols' parents are wholly displeased with the board's decision.
“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 hired attorney Julian McPhillips, who has 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 the letter, McPhillips makes the case that none of the boys who brought the toy to school have suffered punishment beyond in school suspension. The attorney requests that Nichols' record of being expelled be changed to having been voluntarily withdrawn from the school, as Herring claims she was able to take her daughter out of the school before the punishment of expulsion was handed down.
“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.”
Should the school not comply with Herrings' request, the family will take legal action.
“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.