Lawsuit Filed by Parents in Tennessee Accuses Governor and School District of Punishing Children Due to Misinterpretation of State Statute

The basis of the lawsuit revolves around two incidents that occurred in August 2023, where two students were accused of making threatening speech. However, the lawsuit argues that the speech used by the middle schoolers in both incidents did not reach the level of a threat of mass violence. Additionally, it did not amount to actions that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that serious bodily injury or death of two or more people would occur, as defined in Tennessee statute 39-16-517.

In the lawsuit, school officials’ application of Tennessee statute 39-16-517 is being challenged. This 2021 law, known as the “zero tolerance” law, deals with communications of threats of mass violence on school property or at school-related events. According to the law, districts are required to expel students for one year if they are found to have made threats of mass violence.

According to the boy, he only talked about guns during a lunchtime conversation with a friend. He simply recounted the firearms that his friend’s grandfather owned.

According to the lawsuit, B.N. was arrested for violating the Tennessee statute titled “Threat of Mass Violence on School Property” after interviews with school officials and police.

According to a lawsuit, he had to undergo a 24-hour solitary confinement hold and was instructed to change into jail attire while a male guard was looking away.

According to the lawsuit, B.N. spent four days in jail and was subsequently placed under house arrest with his parents. He was also prohibited from entering any Williamson County School grounds and faced a year-long suspension due to the strict zero-tolerance policies.

Court documents reveal that B.N. appealed the suspension, and Williamson County Superintendent Jason Golden determined that B.N. had started a rumor about a weapon threat at school. Despite causing a disturbance at school with the joke, Golden allowed B.N. to return.

According to the lawsuit, the 14-year-old boy and his mother were allegedly told by Page Middle School Principal Eric Lifsey, “You can blame Governor Bill Lee. We don’t think of you as a threat. That was never the case.”

Lifsey was contacted by CNN for a statement.

According to an email statement from a representative of Williamson County Schools to CNN, the school district refrains from making any comments on ongoing legal matters.

CNN has yet to receive a response from Governor Lee’s office regarding their request for comment.

On August 22, 2023, the second incident took place. As per the lawsuit, Fairview Middle School officials considered the text message of a 13-year-old student, known as H.M., as a “Threat of Mass Violence.”

As per the court records, H.M.’s mother obtained the complete transcript of the chat, which revealed that H.M. was being teased by other girls for her darker complexion, which made her look Mexican.

When H.M. was taken into custody at school, she was subjected to a number of invasive procedures at the Williamson County Juvenile Detention Center. These included a strip search, being made to shower while under surveillance by a camera, and being questioned about sensitive personal matters such as sexual activity, abortion, and suicidal thoughts.

According to the lawsuit, H.M. faced suspension from school and was directed to undergo a mental health evaluation. The evaluation aimed to determine her competence to stand trial, and she was given the option of voluntary or involuntary commitment.

According to the lawsuit, the circumstances surrounding their cases have caused the two students to experience a significant emotional injury, leaving them unable to cope with the resulting mental stress.

According to his statement to CNN, Crain has discovered additional instances of children being improperly handed over for criminal prosecution by the school district since the lawsuit was filed.

He stated that the objective of the lawsuit is to challenge the constitutionality of the new law when it comes to the innocent acts of these children and to seek compensatory damages from the school district for not adhering to its internal school board policies and frequently referring children for criminal prosecution.

In response to the tragic mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas earlier this year, Everytown for Gun Safety has released a report for 2022 outlining strategies to prevent gun violence in schools. The report offers recommendations and solutions for addressing this pressing issue.

The report emphasizes the urgency of taking concrete steps to combat gun violence in American schools. It highlights the most effective strategies and emphasizes the need to avoid treating students like criminals. The report cautions against “zero tolerance” policies, such as the one in Tennessee, which may end up punishing students who need compassionate support. The report stresses that not all students facing crises will act out violently, and it is crucial to provide them with the necessary intervention and support.

Everytown research suggests that implementing zero tolerance policies can result in a hostile environment that instills fear and undermines student trust. As a result, students may be reluctant to report concerns about their classmates. Unfortunately, these policies have had a disproportionately negative impact on students of color, as per the research conducted.

According to Everytown’s report, their suggested approach is different from the “zero tolerance” policy and does not involve punishment or a criminal justice approach. Additionally, they emphasize that their recommended practice should not rely on exclusionary discipline as a means of intervention.

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