Still weeks away from a national walkout in which Beaufort County School District officials have warned participating students may be reprimanded, and the first student has already been punished.
Bluffton High School honors student Ami Hughey faces criminal charges for writing in permanent marker on 12 bathroom walls Friday that the district was “silencing” students from participating in the walkout planned March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 17 people.
The 15-year-old sophomore is in the middle of serving the punishment served by the school district — a three-day out-of-school suspension — and is charged with “malicious injury to property,” Bluffton’s version of a vandalism law.
“It’s pretty clear-cut on what she did,” Bluffton police spokeswoman Joy Nelson said on the decision to charge her.
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Ami’s mother, Mia Hughey, said she disagreed with the decision to criminally charge her daughter.
“It should be a crime that these schools are so unsafe,” Hughey said. “Everything about her message was peaceful. A lot of students write ugly, vulgar things on bathroom walls, but they don’t admit what they did, so they don’t get caught. Ami admitted what she did and accepted the consequences.”
So did her parents who, when called to the school Friday afternoon, brought cleaning supplies and said they offered to clean the walls themselves or pay for the cleanup charges.
Ami’s messages were removed within hours of her writing them, and district spokesman Jim Foster said the bathrooms were repainted Monday.
He estimated the total cost to repaint the dozen bathroom walls was $200.
In lieu of the March 14 walkout, school administrators decided to dedicate a 17-minute period that day for students to write their thoughts about school safety on Post-It notes, which will be displayed in the school’s atrium during lunchtime.
It’s an alternative Ami and her mom say is still a form of silencing.
“She’d rather be in trouble for vandalism than shot and killed in school,” Hughey said. “If it gets people’s attention to help increase school security, then maybe it’s worth it.”
In the 2016-17 school year, district data shows 44 reported instances of vandalism , 32 of which led to an out-of-school suspension and 12 in-school suspensions.
The Juvenile Solicitor’s Office for Beaufort County, which will oversee the 15-year-old’s case, will mail Ami paperwork that will include a date to appear in family court.
The process takes a few weeks, Nelson said.
Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office spokeswoman Erinn McGuire wrote in an email that juvenile proceedings are closed to the public and did not provide Ami’s court date.
Asked what general types of punishment past juveniles charged with vandalism have received, McGuire wrote, “Our office does not comment about any pending cases.”