WALTERBORO, SC (WCSC) - The Colleton County School Board made its first public comments Thursday afternoon after a special meeting called to discuss a classroom fight authorities say led to the death of a 10-year-old girl at Forest Hills Elementary School.
But members of the community who came to the meeting expecting answers about the incident and the death of fifth grader RaNiya Wright reacted with anger as the board left the room without releasing specific details.
School District Board Chairman Tim Mabry read a prepared statement after the board came out of executive session.
“It is with great sadness that our board is speaking with you today,” he said. “Forest Hills Elementary and our district as a whole have experienced a great loss. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Wright family. Our district will continue to support them in any way possible as well as offering support to students, community and staff as we deal with this loss. The district is cooperating fully with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office as they continue their investigation. We understand that this is an emotional and difficult time for out community. Our board and district have received multiple requests for information. Due to the ongoing investigation and student privacy laws, we cannot share specific details at this time. Out of respect for our families and the integrity of this investigation, we request that the public remain patient and focused on supporting this community during this time of tragedy.”
Colleton County School District Superintendent Dr. Franklin Fuller also made brief remarks, extending condolences to the Wright family and promising to continue to support them.
“I want to ensure our entire community that we are taking this incident very seriously and cooperating fully with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office,” Fuller said. “We thank them for being here today to share with us during executive session. Proving a safe learning environment is top priority for our district. After the investigation is concluded, we will thoroughly review the findings and address any areas of concern throughout the investigation. Right now, we will remain focused on supporting our students, our employees, our parents and the community through this. I want to let parents know that if their students experience any anxiety, sadness, or conern regarding this situation, please reach out to your child’s school. We ask for the community’s help in preventing the spread of rumors and speculations and we want to thank the entire Colleton County community for their patience and support.”
Some of those attending the meeting shouted questions at board members who quickly adjourned.
“We waited outside for two hours and y’all just going to adjourn the meeting and leave?” one man said.
“But y’all don’t want no rumors or speculations but y’all aren’t answering any questions,” a woman said.
Rumors in the community are connecting the incident to bullying, but that has not been confirmed by either the district or sheriff’s office investigators. But that is one of the answers parents hoped to learn at Thursday’s meeting.
After the meeting, some of the people who attended the meeting, like Colleton County School District parent Tyeesha Aiken, showed a lot of frustration.
“So if the district did their job—I understand they can only be so transparent when it comes to the privacy of the child, but for you to not be transparent enough to tell us, you know, that’s a slap in the face. It’s a slap in the face," she said.
A review of the school’s report card on the state education department’s website shows it was rated unsatisfactory, the worst rating a school can get. That rating means the school fails to prepare students to meet the standards for graduation.
The board called for a special executive session following Wright’s death at MUSC on Wednesday.
The official meeting agenda showed the executive session consisted of “briefing and discussion of Forest Hills Elementary School student incident.” After that executive session, the meeting agenda listed adjournment as the next and final item, suggesting the board would not make any public statement before ending the meeting.
The board members made the statement shortly after 3:30 p.m., approximately two-and-a-half hours after the meeting began.
Wright was airlifted from Forest Hills on Monday after the school district reported a fight had happened at the school. A district spokesman said one student had been suspended.
Deputies with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office said they responded to the school on Monday after a report of a student collapsing. No arrests have been made as yet and no charges have been filed.
A spokesperson for the Colleton County School District said Wednesday that teachers from Forest Hills were sending students home with a letter to inform parents about the incident and the investigation.
But before Wednesday, parents received no phone calls or emails from the district about the incident.
Some parents saw a statement on the district's website and Facebook page, which was deactivated shortly after the statement was published.
"We are deeply saddened that Raniya Wright, a fifth-grade Forest Hills Elementary School student, has passed away," the district said in a statement. "We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family. Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with this family in the difficult days ahead."
The community will gather for a candlelight vigil Thursday at 6 p.m. in Pinckney Park, at 505 Hampton Street in Walterboro.
An autopsy is scheduled for Friday to determine the cause of death. The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office has said it will not make any statement about the ongoing investigation until the autopsy is complete.