A recent fight at Hilton Head Island High School is the latest in a string of incidents that has prompted Beaufort County School District administrators to redouble efforts to end bullying.
The most recent incident occurred in a Hilton Head Island High School locker room Oct. 14, when one student beat another boy as four others stood by and recorded the incident with their cellphone video cameras. One boy was arrested and charged with assault and battery in the third degree according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office incident report. The four boys videotaped the fight also were disciplined by Principal Amanda O'Nan.
School district spokesman Jim Foster said Thursday that the students involved had been disciplined based on the district's student code of conduct.
According to that document, physical assault of a student at the high school level is punishable by up to eight days suspension from school or immediate suspension with a recommendation for expulsion. Law enforcement is also contacted and charges are filed, the document says.
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The alleged Hilton Head High assault followed an incident on a school bus from Lady's Island Middle School, in which two 11-year-old boys were accused of harassing, kissing and inappropriately touching an 11-year-old girl.
"It's important for every student to engage in making sure they have a safe environment. If you see something, say something," Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said. "We're going to specifically re-teach that."
O'Nan said she was so disturbed by the incident in her school's locker room that she showed the video at a faculty meeting and implored teachers to help end such incidents, which she said are nonetheless rare there -- 17 students were disciplined last year for involvement in eight or nine incidents that included verbal or physical confrontations; only one such incident occurred this school year before the alleged assault Oct. 14.
"I hoped it would spark thoughts about how we can prevent this in the future," she said. She said she encouraged teachers to be even more vigilant and to report any conversation or interaction that might lead to a fight.
Truesdale also showed the video this week during a regular meeting of district principals, who then discussed ways to react to and prevent similar incidents. Truesdale said she plans to address bullying district-wide on Oct. 26.
The victim in the Hilton Head High assault is Hispanic, but O'Nan said she doesn't believe the incident was motivated by race or ethnicity. However, she said, that doesn't mean that possibility is not on her mind. She said she's encouraged her teachers to be attuned to any tension and report it immediately.
"We want to stay ahead of these incidents as opposed to being behind them," she said.
When the sheriff's deputy who serves as the school resource officer asked one of the boys who recorded the fight why he didn't stop it instead, he replied that the disagreement was between the two boys.
O'Nan said any students involved in a fight at Hilton Head High are recommended for the maximum punishment: a suspension pending a district hearing for expulsion. Students involved in a fight also are referred to the school resource officer and can face criminal charges.
According to the police report, one boy grabbed the victim by the shirt and began to punch and kick him in the boys' locker room.
"The victim didn't have the opportunity to defend himself," the report says.
O'Nan said the victim had visible injuries and was checked by the school nurse. O'Nan said the boy's injuries were not severe; there were no broken bones. She said the boy's parents told her he has not been treated at a hospital.
The victim told the sheriff's deputy he has "has several issues with some of the students saying things about him" but declined to elaborate, according to the report.
Truesdale said she and district principals hope to encourage parents to report any incidents of bullying, including cyberbulling, that they see outside the schools, too.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.