“If you see something, say something.”
Beaufort County School District officials have emphasized that message to students in the wake of a Parkland, Fla., high school shooting Feb. 14.
Every potential threat reported to administrators – and there have been many in the weeks since – has been reported by students, a point district officials have touted at multiple school board meetings and at a safety forum earlier this week.
But what happens when students use this as a bullying tactic against a fellow student?
That was the case at Robert Smalls International Academy last week when students falsely accused another of planning to “shoot up the school,” according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report made available Thursday.
During a music class, several students began to laugh and make comments that a male student presenting at the front of the class was going to “shoot up the school,” according to the music teacher’s account to a deputy.
The teacher said she had never heard the male student say that, but sent an email to school administrators informing them about the incident. It included a disclaimer that students told her they had heard the male student make similar comments in the past, according to the report.
School guidance counselor Tekerria Brown received the teacher’s email, along with another email from Assistant Principal Jeremiah Young, who asked Brown to “determine which students were involved in this bullying incident,” according to the report.
Brown met with the male student, who denied saying he would shoot up the school. She sent the male student back to class.
Nine students provided written statements to Brown later that day, five of which either said they heard the male student say he planned to shoot up the school or overheard a friend repeat what the male student had said.
Four other students wrote that another student had said the male student planned to “shoot up the school.”
Brown pulled the male student from class a second time. He then described to her some jokes he and another student made about Columbine. The report noted the jokes were made “a while back.”
Deputies found no evidence of a weapon on school property, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Bob Bromage said last week.
The student was read a “juvenile Miranda warning” in the presence of his mother, according to the report.
A deputy interviewed each of the nine students the next day. Many of their stories changed from the written accounts they provided to school administrators.
“It should be noted that several students fully recanted their original written statement to the school and offered up more truthful accounts of the incident,” the deputy wrote in the report. “Other students simply provided clarification to their original written statements.”
Just one student stuck to his story that he heard the male student say he planned a school shooting.
The others described another student or group of students telling the class that the male student would shoot up the school.
According to the report, Principal Jennifer Morillo told the deputy that the students involved in “falsely accusing” the male student will be “dealt with” by the school and will receive consequences for their actions.
Harassment or intimidation of a verbal nature is a first-level offense, according to the district’s Student Code of Conduct. A variety of punishments, including a reprimand, counseling, parent conference or in-school suspension are available.
“Students should absolutely notify an adult if they have safety concerns, but they should also be truthful and not knowingly make false statements,” district spokesman Jim Foster said. “We frequently receive reports from students that ultimately turn out to be false. The key is whether the reports were truthful and made in good faith.”