Beaufort Co. teen’s jaw broken at school, suit says. Is violent bullying getting worse?

‘Schools must be safe, free from violence,’ McMaster says

What Gov. Henry McMaster said about school safety and his plan to put a resource officer in every school as part of his annual State of the State speech.
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What Gov. Henry McMaster said about school safety and his plan to put a resource officer in every school as part of his annual State of the State speech.

A typical school day in early March 2017 turned violent at Whale Branch Early College High School in Seabrook when one student attacked another, breaking his jaw.

The student accused as the attacker was criminally prosecuted for bullying and assault, but two years later the victim’s parents are suing, according to court documents filed in the Beaufort County 14th Judicial Circuit index on March 6.

They’re not suing the teen who attacked their son or his family, though — they’re suing the school district.

“This assault and battery would and could have been avoided had the Beaufort County School District and Whale Branch used even slight care to supervise (the unnamed student) and the student, (or) had BCSD and Whale Branch used even slight care to properly acknowledge and address gang-related and other violent behavior,” the suit said.

Neither the parents or the students are named in the lawsuit.

J. Olin McDougall, the lawyer representing the family, did not return two calls for comment on Thursday.

Town of Hilton Head Island staff attorney Brian Hulbert — who is not affiliated with the case in any way — said it’s not unusual for families to seek anonymity in cases involving gang violence due to fear of retaliation.

“It’s not frequent, but there’s usually an underlying reason,” Hulbert said Thursday. “The court may require them to insert the names in the lawsuit, but not usually if there’s a threat of violence.”

The family is suing the school district claiming negligence and economic loss. According to the suit, the student who was attacked acquired over $80,000 in medical bills.

The suit does not list an amount of damages sought by the family, instead leaving that to the court to decide.

Jim Foster, spokesperson for the Beaufort County School District, said Thursday, “We haven’t had a chance to review the allegations, but typically we don’t comment on pending litigation.”

Violence in South Carolina schools

Attacks in schools made statewide news this week after a 10-year-old student died following a classroom fight in Walterboro, according to reporting by The State newspaper in Columbia.

RaNiya Wright was a fifth-grade student at Forest Hills Elementary School when she collapsed on Monday. She was airlifted to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where she died on Wednesday morning, according to the school district.

“RaNiya was a wonderful student. She loved to write, spend time with her friends, play basketball and loved being a big sister,” a statement from the school district said. “She was actively involved in her church as a junior usher. She will be missed greatly by her family, friends and the entire school community.”

Parents in Beaufort County reacted strongly to Wright’s death. The Island Packet’s Facebook post was flooded with stories of school violence and concerned parents.

Ashley Dixon of Bluffton said her 6-year-old daughter was targeted by another student at Pritchardville Elementary.

“Another student told her he wishes she was dead,” Dixon wrote. “This boy bullies multiple children and teachers as well and he is still allowed to attend school.”

Dixon said she doesn’t think these types of issues always fall to the teachers to resolve.

“Her teacher has been very helpful in this situation, as far as keeping the two separated and constantly checking on my daughter,” Dixon told The Island Packet on Thursday. “I feel like he is limited, and it’s up to the administration to take action and get the boy some help before it’s too late for him.”

Lisa McLean, who lived in Bluffton but moved to Hanover County, North Carolina, told The Island Packet she knows firsthand that “this bullying issue extends beyond S.C.”

“My heart aches for this mother,” she wrote about the article. “My son has dealt with so much bullying, and now reading this I’m even more concerned for his safety.”

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.