Illinois student suspended over pellet gun seen in virtual classroom

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COLUMBIA, Ill. – Twelve-year-old Cole and his 14-year-old brother Jack Mayer are both avid hunters. They often keep their hunting equipment in their room, like Cole’s pellet gun.

In September, Cole says he was working in his online class with no idea what would soon develop with police. When he stood up, his pellet gun appeared where it had been blocked behind him. A teacher then snapped a screen grab.

“The gun was behind my bed. They said I was holding onto the gun, but I never touched it the gun,” Cole said. “I never had a clue; until the police showed up.”

Cole’s mom, Sherri Mayer, is an essential worker; she was not home at the time.

Screenshot from the virtual class.

“I feel like the police handled it well. They asked him if he’d taken a gun or had a gun. He said he had a pellet gun,” she said. “After it was clarified it was pellet gun, they talked about dove hunting. The officers had been dove hunting.”

While police didn’t seem alarmed, or write a report, Columbia Middle School recommended expulsion. The principal wrote the Mayers family: “The remote learning handbook specifies, ‘Look around you. Make sure anything on video is something that should be seen during school time.’ (The teacher) observed Cole’s screen with a gun instead of his face during the meeting for reading lab.”

Sherri says the principal “…felt she was granting him leniency with a 10-day suspension (rather than expulsion). But he wasn’t threatening anyone.”

Cole is just one of many students across the country who have faced similar controversy.

Last month, near Colorado Springs, 12-year-old Isiah Eliot described sheriff’s deputies knocking on his door after he was seen handling a toy gun on camera.

Also last month, in Golden, Colorado, an 11-year-old faced suspension for handling his Airsoft gun in a class Zoom.

There’s no evidence Cole ever touched his pellet rifle. Sherri adds that the timing of the police call shows even the school knew this was not a threat.

“The event happened at 11 o’clock but they didn’t call the police until 1:15 to do a well check,” she said. “If you were that concerned about my son, I think you would’ve called as soon as you got the screenshot.”

“It’s a learning experience for all, you know, we got letters from the school – be patient with them, it’s a learning curve for them. Well, it’s a learning curve for us at home too. We don’t think about the things in our homes.”

The Columbia Community Unit School District #4 had no comment beyond the letter Columbia Middle School sent the Mayers family.

Cole served his suspension when school here was still completely virtual. He also lost his appeal to get it removed from his record.

“Basically, I had no education for 10 days and that knocked me off really bad and I never got caught up,” Cole said.

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