South Carolina

South Carolina fifth-grader dies days after school fight; classmate suspended

WALTERBORO, S.C. — A community in South Carolina is in mourning after a fifth-grader died following what authorities called a physical altercation with another student in a classroom.

The Colleton County School District said the Forest Hills Elementary School student, identified as RaNiya Wright, was airlifted to Medical University of South Carolina for treatment after the Monday fight.

Wright had been unresponsive and in critical condition since Monday, family members told WCIV.

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"We are devastated by this news, and we want our communities to keep their thoughts and prayers with the student’s family at this time," a spokesperson wrote on the school district's website.

According to an incident report released by the Colleton County Sheriff's Office, a 911 call was made by a staff member at the elementary school, reporting that a student had collapsed. When first responders arrived, Wright was at the nurse's station and unconscious but breathing, the report said.

The district said one student has been suspended while it investigates the fight.

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The Colleton County Sheriff's Office said it is investigating the fight, which apparently happened between Wright and another student. The cause and nature of the fight is unclear.

No weapons were involved, said Shalane Lowes, a police information officer for the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office.

In a statement on its website, the district said that after the fight occurred in Raniya's classroom, "school administrators promptly secured the scene, ended the fight and called emergency medical services to the school."

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School district staff deployed a crisis response team to the school on Tuesday to offer support to students and staff.

WCIV reported that the school district has temporarily deactivated its Facebook page, it announced after news of the Wright's death. The page had been bombarded with criticisms from followers since Monday.

School district spokesperson Sean Gruber released Wednesday afternoon a statement on behalf of superintendent Dr. Franklin Foster, extending "heartfelt condolences" and "thoughts and prayers" to the family.

"Raniya was a wonderful student," the statement reads in part. "She loved to write, spend time with her friends, play basketball and loved being a big sister. 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."

The district's statement goes on to say guidance and counseling services are being provided to students, staff, and family members "as needed."

"The well-being of our students and staff will remain a top priority as we deal with the emotions surrounding this tragedy," the district's statement reads. "Children may be coming home with questions and worries about this loss. Please feel free to contact the school counselors if you have an issue you would like to discuss."

A GoFundMe account has been set up by the family to support RaNiya's mother in paying for medical and funeral expenses.

Lowes said police were still investigating the incident and that an autopsy for the girl was scheduled for Friday.

"No further information will be released until the Medical Examiner’s report is received following the procedure," Colleton County Sheriff's Office Major J.W. Chapman said in a statement.

It is unknown how this fight happened, and if any adults were nearby when the fight broke out.

But this tragedy has many questioning how these situations should be handled.

Channel 9's Education Reporter Elsa Gillis spoke with North Carolina attorney Ken Harris about the responsibility of teachers, and sensitive nature of these situations.

"There are no easy answers," Harris said. "I'm not aware of any regulation that says a teacher must, if the fight escalates to a certain point, that a teacher must step in…the consistent problem I see is that teachers are at a loss with what they are supposed to do.”

Harris told Channel 9, “I think more and more as we've gone down the path of police presence or SRO, the belief is you’re going to have protection by people who are more trained.”

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, for example, teachers are not required to intervene in student fights and can call for a trained staff, like an SRO.

Depending on the district and school, however, the number of trained staff on campus varies.

“I can tell you for the most part teachers are not paid to be breaking up fights between people.  I think obviously teachers are there to educate and keep the children safe,” Harris said. “There’s a line at which I think is true for every teacher about when to step in and when not to. You're going to step in to a petty argument but are you going to step into someone who hits somebody?” Harris said of the complex situation, “the problem then becomes the additional element of 'in loco parentis.' Well, you're in school, you're in charge of them. I guess I look at like the reasonableness standard has to engage."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.