Today's Paper Latest stories Obits Newsletters Traffic Weather Puzzles/games

The Vilonia School District has asked a judge to prohibit a 15-year-old special-education student from returning to school after he posted a picture of himself on Snapchat holding a gun and reportedly said he wanted to kill someone and spend the rest of his life in prison.

After the district filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Faulkner County Circuit Court, citing concerns for the safety of students and staff members, the boy's parents transferred the case to federal court. They want a federal judge to order the district to allow the boy to return to the Freshman Academy, which is the district's school for ninth-graders.

They cite the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, a federal law that governs the education of students who receive special-education services and requires public school districts to make accommodations to ensure that the students receive free and equal educational opportunities.

On Wednesday, the district asked a federal judge to remand the case to circuit court, arguing that it concerns an urgent safety matter and doesn't involve the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which allows for federal court jurisdiction only on appeal of a final administrative decision in a due process hearing.

An administrative hearing on the boy's March 6 suspension and his ultimate placement in accordance with federal law is set for April 12, but the district needs "immediate redress in the form of a temporary restraining order," the lawsuit states.

The district said the boy was suspended from school March 6 -- five days after the social media post and the same day a student intern "came forward" about a conversation the intern had with the student, in which the student calmly said, "I just want to fight someone and end up killing them and go to prison for the rest of my life."

"The District cannot maintain the suspension for an extended length of time because [the boy] is not subject to the District's discipline policy due to his IEP [Individualized Education Program, which is part of the IDEA]," the lawsuit states, adding, "If an order is not in place restraining [the boy] from returning to the school, harm will occur as he constitutes an ongoing danger."

The district wants the boy to continue his education through a day treatment center, which is one of three options available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when a special-education student cannot be accommodated at the school itself. The day treatment option isn't as restrictive an environment as residential placement and doesn't require the student to remain homebound, which is the other option.

However, the district asked the state circuit judge to order that the boy remain in homebound placement until his parents can complete the necessary paperwork to place him in a day treatment facility.

The district's filing notes that it "does not dispute its obligation to pay for this alternative placement, and stands ready and willing to do so."

According to the lawsuit, the boy suffers from multiple disorders, including traumatic brain injury, memory deficits, psychomotor deficits, frontal lobe and executive function deficit, depression and oppositional defiant disorder. It says these conditions were documented in a neuropsychological evaluation dated May 4 of last year.

Attorney Theresa Caldwell of Maumelle, who represents the boy and his parents and specializes in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act cases, couldn't be reached by phone Wednesday. But in court papers she said, "the District must follow the process provided in the IDEA to remove Student from school."

According to the lawsuit, a photo the boy posted of himself holding a handgun with his finger on the trigger included the hashtag (in all capital letters) "#Iloveitwhentheyrun."

The lawsuit says "other video," which it didn't describe further, "depicted [the boy] with a gun, acting as if he were shooting the gun, and talking about killing. The video showed the word 'kill.' [The boy] also posted a photo of some classmates with the head of one of the classmates circled in red."

The postings led Vilonia police to arrest the boy on a charge of harassing communications, the suit noted. Later that same day, it said, the boy told the district's special-education director that he was depressed and "almost killed himself by hanging."

The suit says the boy also posted a photograph of himself with a belt around his neck, and later showed the photo and a social media exchange with another student with whom he discussed the "near suicide," to the director and the school principal. It says he shared the information while he "openly and politely explained his actions over the week."

The lawsuit states that a mobile phone turned over to school officials by another student, who gave officials access to its content, showed that the special-education student had posted a video of himself with a handgun in which he said, "I don't fight to hurt. I fight to kill."

Nationally, educators and disability rights advocates have debated whether school disciplinary practices disproportionately target students with disabilities by punishing them for behaviors related to their disabilities.

On the other hand, the Vilonia district's lawsuit cites its obligation to other students in requesting an injunction to restrain the boy from attending classes or school functions. It argues that doing so is in the public interest and without it, irreparable damage may occur.

"The District cannot remove [the boy] from his current educational placement on a long-term basis without violating his rights to be educated," the district conceded in its lawsuit, "but this Court can enjoin [the boy] from returning to school at the District until a more suitable educational placement can be identified."

Metro on 03/29/2018

Print Headline: District sues to bar teen in gun post from school

Sponsor Content


You must be signed in to post comments
  • jackj1100
    March 29, 2018 at 8:19 a.m.

    Are you kidding me? There is no way this student should be allowed back in school. This is a bomb waiting to explode. The Disabilities Act is onerous for schools and unjustifiably keeps students like this in the school population where they are a menace to students and teachers alike. Ask this attorney representing this particular students if she would allow him into her home and to associate with her family.

  • SJB
    March 29, 2018 at 8:49 a.m.

    If his diagnosis would mean he will never be allowed to have a driver's license, will the parents demand he be allowed to drive a car, a 1/2 ton truck, a semi to show "fairness"? Likely, not. No one wants this boy to go without an education. Where and how he obtains it is the issue. The district is obligated by law to protect the student population. Why is this even a discussion, let alone a lawsuit? He made threats. If he does not understand the magnitude of his threats, will he understand the magnitude of acting out his threats?

  • purplebouquet
    March 29, 2018 at 9:13 a.m.

    Where did he get the gun? Does Arkansas law permit him to buy one? Or was it stolen? Or is it his parents' and if yes, why would they not keep it away from him given they know about his depression (possibly leading to an increased risk of suicide) and his oppositional defiant disorder (possibly leading to aggression against others)?

  • Murphy01
    March 29, 2018 at 9:25 a.m.

    His access to a firearm is a major concern to say the least. Where were these photos and videos made? In the home? If so, perhaps the parents need to be investigated?

  • Packman
    March 29, 2018 at 9:39 a.m.

    Unlike the school in Parkland, Florida Vilonia does not have a sanctuary school policy.
    Keep this kid away from school. He can be home schooled or get his GED online. But, what happens next? The kid becomes an adult and due to his mental state will likely never be self-sufficient. He needs to be placed in a mental institution until he is well, however long that may be.

  • TimberTopper
    March 29, 2018 at 10:24 a.m.

    Sounds like terroristic threatening to me. The judge needs to make sure that the parents are "responsible" for this kid.

  • malice06220956
    March 29, 2018 at 11:44 a.m.

    Your headline makes it seems as if the student was suspended for merely holding a gun - when it was a gun, a threat, and a statement.

  • FireEyes
    March 29, 2018 at 11:54 a.m.

    This child clearly needs help that the parents are not getting him. Get him out of that household and into a place where he cannot hurt himself or others. Then get to the bottom of what is really going on here.

    His issues are NOT what the Disabilities Act is all about, and this lawsuit is an egregious misuse of it to get attention for the lawyer and the parents while carrying zero for the child. Disgusting.

  • DoubleBlind
    March 29, 2018 at 1:22 p.m.

    Agree with all those who raised the issue of the boy/MINOR having access to a gun or guns. That is evidently clear from his social media photos. If his threats weren’t accompanied by PROOF POSITIVE that he is in fact armed, his parents might have an argument. In this case, they seem to actually be enabling him. Do they have any idea the liability they face if he acts on his threats using a gun belonging to them?