Parents Upset Over School Board Response After 5th Grader Dies Following Classroom Fight

By Zachary Stieber

South Carolina parents reeling from the death of a 5th grader say the school board isn’t providing enough answers to questions about what happened.

Raniya Wright, 10, was seriously injured during a classroom fight with another girl at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro on March 25. She passed away on March 27, Principal Matt Brantley told parents in a letter (pdf).

The letter included no information about the link between the school and the death. A statement released by the Colleton County School District announced that the county’s school board held a special board meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Superintendent Franklin Foster said that the district is assisting the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation into the incident. The district said that Raniya “suffered injuries after a fight occurred in the classroom” and was airlifted to a hospital.

NTD Photo
Ashley Wright and her daughter Raniya Wright in a file photo. Raniya, 10, died on March 27, 2019, two days after getting injured during a classroom fight at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro, S.C. (Ashley Wright/GoFundMe)

Parents say members of the school board are avoiding them and officials are providing no further information about what happened.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s awful because they’re telling us don’t speculate and don’t start rumors but they’re not telling us anything. … It makes no sense,” Shawnya Sanders, one of the parents, told ABC after waiting two hours outside Thursday’s private school board meeting.

“She should be alive. She shouldn’t have died,” Dwayne Buckner, a Walterboro attorney, added to WCIV. “Whatever the situation is, we have an obligation to make sure our children go to school in a safe environment, and somehow we’ve failed at that.”

The sheriff’s office said that no weapons were involved. The other girl involved in the fight is under investigation; she could face severe punishment, Buckner said.

“How egregious the act was, whether or not there was a lot of planning beforehand, if they make that decision, they could be tried as an adult,” he said. Employees at the school could be held responsible if they deviated from school procedures.

William Bowman, a member of the Colleton County School Board, said that the board is pushing to get money to ramp up safety measures in schools.

“We’re going to have to look at this situation and see if there’s any avenues we can take in order to make our schools even safer,” Bowman added.

Raniya’s mother, Ashley Wright, told The Post and Courier that another student was bullying her child and “nothing was done.” She said she plans to give further information after her daughter’s funeral.

“But I am going to speak to everyone and answer everyone’s questions to get down to the bottom of this,” she said.

Family members of other students in the district said there had been bullying concerns.

“They’re telling the proper adults, but the adults aren’t handling it,” said Cynthia Salley, who has nieces and nephews in the school system.

Bowman, who said that he’s a distant cousin of the victim, told The Greenville News that he wants to set up a task force to study issues surrounding bullying in the district.

“The weird thing about bullying is there’s no true definition of what bullying is,” Bowman said. “I want to see if we can put together some type of task force or community group, to see if we can use information gleaned from our community and educators and professionals and stakeholders, to see if we can actually be maybe on the forefront. Maybe we can be pioneers, to create and establish a denotation for bullying.”

Bowman acknowledged anger in the community over what happened and encouraged people to pray.

“We’re still trying to recover emotionally from this tragedy. Not only am I trying to recover individually, but also as a father, a board member and a leader in the community,” he said. “Anytime something happens at a school, you’re going to have that public reaction of fear, and rightfully so.”

Raniya’s grandmother confirmed her death on Wednesday, writing on Facebook: “As of 9:39 my baby girl has gain her wings.”

A fundraiser on GoFundMe had raised over $50,000 since its launch earlier in the week.

Richard Harvey, Colleton County Coroner, told WCIV that an autopsy was planned for the victim, likely on Friday morning.