WALTERBORO — The schools of Colleton County must do more to address bullying and fights before another child dies, said some parents, aunts and uncles who were waiting in the shade outside the district office Thursday afternoon.
They were waiting for details on the death of fifth-grader Raniya Wright, a 10-year-old girl who died Wednesday after being involved in a fight Monday at Forest Hills Elementary School. But few specifics were offered as an investigation continues.
The school board met behind closed doors for 2½ hours Thursday with sheriff's officers and legal counsel as community members outside grew increasingly impatient.
Some just wanted reassurance that nothing like Raniya's death would happen again under the school district's watch.
Raniya's mother, Ashley Wright, told The Post and Courier in a phone interview Thursday that a student had been bullying her child and "nothing was done."
School and law enforcement officials have not commented on whether bullying contributed to the fatal incident.
Wright said she planned to speak further about her daughter's death once her family gets past the funeral service.
"But I am going to speak to everyone and answer everyone's questions to get down to the bottom of this," she said.
In a prepared statement after the meeting Thursday, District Superintendent Franklin Foster asked for community members to prevent the spread of rumors and to remain focused on students' well-being.
"Our district remains committed to offering support to our students and staff through our guidance and counseling services," Foster said.
Several community members who were waiting outside the district office Thursday said they had heard from their children or other parents about fights and bullying incidents in the schools. They gave mixed accounts of how officials handled complaints.
Brittany Burns, 28, said her nephew's school took appropriate action after he reported that students were bullying him on the bus. She said she hasn't heard of any problems since.
Kathy Wright, who said she is no relation to Ashley or Raniya Wright, said the district has a tendency to suspend students for three to five days but then send them back into the classroom with little changed about their behavior. She said she was angry when she heard Monday that a child, Raniya, had to be airlifted out of town following a fight.
"I don't care who bullied who. It never should have gotten to that point," Kathy Wright said.
She said the size of Forest Hills Elementary may be a factor in behavior problems there.
The school had about 670 students last year, twice the size of other elementary schools in the district. State report card data also showed that one-third of the teachers in core classes at Forest Hills had fewer than four years of teaching experience, a far higher ratio than at other schools in the district.
Cynthia E. Salley, who has nieces and nephews in the school system, said the district has been failing to address long-term problems and fights between students. She said that's particularly troubling when a child works up the courage to tell an adult she is being bullied.
"They're telling the proper adults," Salley said, "but the adults aren't handling it."
Some parents and neighbors gathered Thursday simply expressed shock.
"My God, what's going on?" said Allen Jamison, 58, one of the first community members to arrive at the district office. "What's happening to the children?"
Officials with the Colleton County Sheriff's Office and the school district have so far declined to answer questions about the circumstances of the fight, citing an ongoing investigation.
An incident report released Wednesday said Forest Hills Elementary staff called 911 around 1 p.m. Monday reporting that a student had collapsed. A school resource officer assigned to the building was already on the scene when Colleton County Fire-Rescue crews arrived.
Authorities found Raniya in the nurse's station, "unconscious but breathing," the report stated.
Raniya was initially transported to Colleton Medical Center. She was later flown to Medical University Hospital in Charleston, where her mother said she died Wednesday morning.
The Sheriff's Office report classified the incident as a simple assault. It said Raniya had suffered an "apparent minor injury." No weapons were involved. Gang activity was not suspected, according to the report.
The school district has suspended the other fifth-grade student involved in the fight.
No arrests have been made and no criminal charges have been filed, the Sheriff's Office said Thursday.
An autopsy is scheduled for Friday to determine Raniya's cause of death.
A GoFundMe page for Raniya's family had raised more than $44,000 as of Thursday afternoon. Parents and others who said they were horrified by the girl's death commented with messages of condolence.
Wright said the support helps.
"It’s making me feel like her story is being heard already," she said. "Her voice is getting out there. I appreciate everybody’s love."
Thomas Novelly contributed to this report.