An undisclosed number of boys at Lady’s Island Middle School were disciplined for touching their female peers inappropriately and then attempting to silence the girls from reporting the assaults, compelling administrators to separate the entire eighth-grade class by sex, according to officials.
On Sept. 28, about half a dozen eighth-grade girls at the middle school told their teachers that they were grabbed inappropriately by several eighth-grade boys.
On Oct. 1, those girls, as well as about half-dozen boys they had alleged grabbed them, were each interviewed by administrators.
Jim Foster, spokesperson for the district, said the boys who were found to have acted inappropriately were disciplined.
Students who commit a simple assault, which includes inappropriate physical contact as well as intimidation, could face up to six days of out-of-school suspension depending on how severe the assault or intimidation was, according to the district’s code of student conduct.
Foster declined to specify how many boys were disciplined or what level of discipline they received.
Starting last week, all eighth-grade Lady’s Island Middle School classes were subjected to assigned seating that separates the boys and girls on opposite sides of the classroom. Girls and boys are also being dismissed from classes separately to “reduce the tension created by some students telling girls ‘not to be snitches,’” Foster said.
“The hope is that these are short-term measures that (administrators) will reevaluate in time,” he said.
Although this is not the first time Beaufort County students have grabbed students of the opposite sex inappropriately, Foster said that the intimidation tactics made this situation unique.
“The part about this that was so concerning was the attempt at intimidation,” Foster said. “That behavior — trying to silence the girls from reporting it — is just plain wrong.”
After administrators at the middle school investigated the allegations, they asked the City of Beaufort Police Department to conduct a follow-up investigation, according to Patrick Schmucker, the police department’s spokesperson.
Schmucker said Wednesday that the department’s investigation was still ongoing and that he could not provide any additional information on the case.
Board member Cynthia Gregory-Smalls, who represents the district where Lady’s Island Middle School is located, said in a phone call Wednesday that she was not aware of the situation.
“I’m sure it would be investigated and at that time I’d let the district handle it,” Gregory-Smalls said.
Foster said school administrators called the parents of each girl who had reported the assault to inform them of the situation.
A robocall was also sent to parents of all the eighth-grade students at Lady’s Island Middle School to tell them about the situation and the school’s plan of action, according to Foster.
School administrators held a meeting last week to talk to all the eighth-grade boys at the school and “clearly set out what the school expects as far as proper behavior with girls — not just in school but anywhere,” Foster said.
On Wednesday, Foster said administrators met with the eighth grade girls to ensure that they felt confident in reporting any unwelcome touching or inappropriate conduct. Girls, similar to the boys, were also warned against intimidating their peers into not reporting such incidents.
“If any student feels uncomfortable for any reason they should speak up,” Foster said. “In this case they did, and they did the right thing.”