Seventh-grader Khalid Caraballo was playing with friends in his front yard when a passing driver called 911 and reported them to the local Virginia Beach Police Department, according to local television station WAVY. Three of the boys are now expelled from school.
Their crime? Playing with airsoft guns, a legal toy that shoots small, plastic pellets.
The six boys who were waiting for the school bus that arrives 70 yards from Caraballo’s house had engaged in an airsoft war. Aidan Clark, 12, was chasing a fellow seventh-grader, an African-American, into the street when the 911 caller approached.
“I aimed to shoot, and I saw a car on the right,” Clark said.
The caller reported that Clark “looked directly at me and the black child kept on running,” and said it was not clear if the boys were playing or not.
Three days before the incident that got the boys in trouble, a neighbor called 911 after seeing Caraballo shooting his “Zombie Hunter” airsoft gun at a net-secured target on a tree. The caller knew the gun was fake but called authorities out of general concern.
“It makes people uncomfortable,” she said, according to the emergency call transcript. “I know that it makes me [uncomfortable], as a mom, to see a boy pointing a gun.” Her son, ironically, was playing airsoft with the other boys the morning the second 911 call came in.
Playing with airsoft guns is not illegal in Virginia Beach, according to city code, so long as it is done “at approved shooting ranges or on or within private property.” Even so, the school took disciplinary action against the boys because of their proximity to the school bus stop. The boys and their parents claim the guns never left the Caraballos’ front yard.
“It’s unfair because we were in our yard,” Caraballo said. “This had nothing to do with school.”
His mother, Solangel Caraballo, said it is not right for the school to discipline students for something that did not occur on school property: “My son is my private property. He does not become the school’s property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school.”
Larkspur Middle School, where the boys attend, initially suspended Caraballo, Clark, and a third child for possession of a firearm. On Tuesday, the school released a letter changing its justification to expulsion for “possession, handling, and use of an airsoft gun.” The expulsion will last for one year. In January, school officials will evaluate the boys to see whether they may return to the school system. Otherwise, they must be homeschooled or attend an alternate school called Renaissance Academy Middle School Program.
“It’s terrible,” Caraballo said. “I won’t get the chance to go to a good college. It’s on your school record. The school said I had possession of a firearm. They aren’t going to ask me any questions. They are going to think it was a real gun, and I was trying to hurt someone. They will say, ‘oh, we can’t accept you.’”
After facing backlash for its decision, the school district took another unusual step that’s earning it more criticism: School board President Dan Edwards discussed Caraballo’s disciplinary record on Twitter. In a statement released to WAVY, Edwards said: “We can share that this is not Khalid Caraballo's first disciplinary infraction. He has been disciplined six times in the last 18 months for increasingly aggressive behavior including harassment, bullying, and fighting that resulted in injures.”
In the letter released via Twitter, Edwards described the school district’s actions as “a measured response to a threat to student safety.” Caraballo’s mother says the district is now engaging in character assassination.