Forest Hills Elementary is an underfunded school, where bullying prevention is non-existent.
Raniya Wright, a fifth-grader at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro, S.C., died two days after getting into a fight with a another fifth-grade girl. Weeks before Raniya’s death, she kept asking her mom if she could stay home from school.
“I’m very upset with the school system, starting out, only because of the fact that I’ve been complaining about the person that she fought numerous times to them,” said Ashley Wright, Raniya’s mother.
Raniya was unconscious and was taken to two hospitals, one via airlift to Charleston, before dying.
Sen. Margie Bright Matthews said during a Senate meeting that Raniya lost consciousness in the principal’s office and that the fight was slaps and shoves.
Wright said her daughter was provoked into the altercation by another student, causing her to hit her head on a bookshelf. The school district said teachers broke up the fight as quickly as possible. The resource officer was notified of the fight, and of EMS’s arrival.
An anonymous teacher at Forest Hills Elementary told ABC News 4:
“I feel that our children aren’t safe. My child had personally went through it on two different occasions.
“At one point she had to switch schools and it was not handled properly… It’s making me want to leave, making me want to pack up my children and just move on.”
In 2017, a student brought a gun to Forest Hills Elementary school to scare another student who was bullying them.
Forest Hills Elementary is a Low-Performing School with Scarce Resources
School leadership is white. The school is 62 percent Black, in terms of student body demographics. The town of Walterboro is predominantly Black and 56 percent residents of color. More than a quarter of the population are below the poverty line, where the median income for a family is $32,549.
In 2018, Forest Hills Elementary ranked worse in performance than 85.4% of elementary schools in South Carolina.
Due to low performance, the school just received $220,000 in funding from the South Carolina Education Department, as did four other schools in the district totaling $800,000. This occurred three weeks before Raniya’s death.
The school staff decided what special projects would be filtered through to improve academics.
Bullying prevention wasn’t listed.
The Colleton County School Board has not held any public meetings since March 28. When Walterboro residents waited for hours outside the district office for an explanation, they were only given prepared statements and not allowed to ask questions.
The district also cancelled a “Community Conversation on Student Achievement” on Monday. They are “considering additional public comment,” according to spokesman Sean Gruber at the April 16 board meeting.
Patricia Simmons, the vice chair of the Colleton County School Board, is waiting for the close of the investigation.
“Right now, what we need to do is pray for one another and just focus on the safety of the children.”
Disparities in School-District Funding, But Hundreds of Millions Dollars in Reserves
Back in 2013, reports surfaced that predominantly white county districts were keeping abnormally large reserves as far back as 2008.
Ashley Landess, president of the South Carolina Policy Council, a think tank that promotes limited government said, “It’s hard to justify huge reserve funds at a time when there are pushes (by officials) all over the state to raise taxes. If districts were really spending on critical, core classroom needs, the reserves would be defensible.”
Some critics say the practice has continued through today and that here are hundreds of millions, if not over a billion dollars, in unrestricted cash reserves just sitting there. And whatever is not spent rolls over to the next fiscal year.
But that’s money that is on the table for resources to help children and parents, while the numbers have shown bullying as a consistent problem.
The budget included $7.9 billion in recurring state general fund revenue, $29 million in nonrecurring Fiscal Year 2016-2017 certified surplus, and $139 million in Capital Reserve Funds.
In Abbeville, a white district, $100 million in nonrecurring funds was allocated by the Department of Education in 2017 for funding school facility upgrades at the plaintiff school districts in an Abbeville education law suit and any other school districts with a poverty index of at least eighty percent.
Bullying in South Carolina Schools
School districts across South Carolina reported 2,571 incidents of bullying to the state Education Department during the 2015-16 school year. A WalletHub study found only eight states have a bigger bullying problem than South Carolina. No state has a higher percentage of high school students who skip school because they fear bullies, that study found.
In 2006, then-Governor Sanford signed the Safe School Climate Act, charging the state board of education to create model policies and mandate training for all districts.
Last year, another bill proposed by Rep. Samuel Rivers, in response to bullying, required kids to be pulled out of school and given no education, and parents who worked two and three jobs to find time to go to counseling. Critics said it wasn’t realistic for families in poverty.