A substantial portion of the Laurens District 55 High School student body stayed home Friday after three incidents of violence at LDHS on Tuesday and Thursday with rumors of more to come circulating on social media and in the community.
District 55 officials addressed the incidents at a Friday morning press conference, saying an increased presence from the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office was at the school to quell fears of additional violence.
Rumors had circulated that a student or students would be bringing a firearm to school Friday. In response, about half of the LDHS student population reportedly did not attend classes.
District 55 Director of Administrative Service, Athletics and Public Relations Edward Murray said the emotions and reaction surrounding the incident Tuesday morning exponentially heightened the concern over Thursday’s altercations.
He also said the LDHS staff members have reacted appropriately in all instances and will continue to do so.
“We have to make sure we’re vigilant – hyper-vigilant over the next few days,” Murray said.
On Tuesday, a girl wielding a knife attempted to attack a classmate before being subdued by a LDHS teacher; a third student suffered a cut during that altercation. On Thursday, a fight involving several students broke out in the school cafeteria during lunch followed by a second altercation in a boys’ bathroom that afternoon.
Murray said all students involved in Thursday’s incidents will at least face suspensions, adding that punishments will be doled out on a case-by-case basis.
“There have been suspensions and recommendations for expulsion, depending on the individual student circumstances,” he said. “Anybody who was involved in a fight received a suspension of some sort.”
The girl who brandished a knife in the earlier incident was charged with bringing a weapon to school and two counts of aggravated assault. She was charged as an adult and taken to the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia. According to the LCSO, she returned to Laurens on bond Thursday.
“Errors in judgment on the part of a small group of students have tainted the reputation of LDHS and Laurens County School District 55,” Murray read from a prepared statement. “ We have 1,580-plus students who have done the right thing this week, and they do not deserve to be painted with the same brush as the few who acted appropriately.”
Murray said the District is looking at its procedures with current staffing and has identified some changes designed to help quell violent situations. He did not rule out the possibility of adding additional Student Resource Officers from the LCSO if needed. LDHS currently has one Student Resource Officer on staff.
Murray said officials are investigating the rumors of persons bringing a firearm to the school, but have yet to track down any substance behind those rumors.
He also urged parents to call the school or district offices to substantiate or debunk things that circulate on social media.
“One of the reasons we are here today is because of the inappropriate and irresponsible use of social media that fueled the frenzy of fear in the public’s mind,” Murray read from the prepared statement. “We understand that social media can be a positive influence; but, when used carelessly, it can also do great harm. We would ask our students and our community to exercise due diligence in checking the facts before spreading a story. Even when videos seem to provide a clear picture, they can fail to provide the full context of a situation. As a district, we welcome inquiries from our parents regarding events in our schools and we will always do our best to respond as quickly and as factually as possible.”
Below is the complete District 55 statement presented by Murray Friday morning:
We are clearly concerned and saddened by the acts of violence that have impacted Laurens District High School this week. Errors in judgement on the part of a small group of students have tainted the reputation of LDHS and Laurens County School District 55. We have 1580+ students who have done the right thing this week and they do not deserve to be painted with the same brush as the few who acted inappropriately.
We do not expect behavior of this type from our students; but, when it did occur on Tuesday and Thursday, our staff stepped in to stop each situation as quickly and as safely as possible. This doesn’t mean we are not reviewing our procedures for supervision and student safety at the school. That is always an ongoing process and we have identified several additional supervisory procedures that we will implement to ensure the continued safety and security of all our schools.
With respect to the individual incidents and the students involved; each case is being investigated as to cause and effect. Rumors have been circulating about the arrest of one of our students and its connection to persistent bullying. We can assure the public and our parents that we take any report of bullying seriously and act quickly to address those situations.
One of the reasons we are here today is because of the inappropriate and irresponsible use of social media that fueled the frenzy of fear in the public’s mind. We understand that social media can be a positive influence; but, when used carelessly, it can also do great harm. We would ask our students and our community to exercise due diligence in checking the facts before spreading a story. Even when videos seem to provide a clear picture, they can fail to provide the full context of a situation. As a district, we welcome inquiries from our parents regarding events in our schools and we will always do our best to respond as quickly and as factually as possible.
We would like to thank the Laurens County Sheriff’s Department for their rapid response to our needs and for their presence on campus this morning to ensure a smooth start on this final day of school this week. We would also like to thank the many parents who reached out to get the facts from us; and, who have subsequently offered their support. The safety and security of our schools is a number one priority; but, teaching and learning is equally important and we chose not to allow unsubstantiated rumors to deter us from our duties and responsibilities. We will, however, remain vigilant throughout the day today and in the weeks ahead of us.
Finally, I would personally like to thank the news media for their patience as we have tried to sort through the activities of the week. In the interest of privacy concerns and the steps in the investigative process, we cannot always provide the information the media would like in the timeframe of their broadcasts. But, they have been very professional and patient in my dealings with them this week. We certainly hope that, in the future we will be able to share the many wonderful things that our students do here in LCSD 55.