I’ve been doing the talk show thing for more than 24 years here in the Augusta metro, and you would think some of these knuckleheads in charge of some of our political subdivisions and agencies would get the message. If a criminal event, scandal or an episode involving a threat to public peace and or safety erupts under your watch, it is highly advisable that you quickly issue a public statement explaining what happened, because if you don’t, I, or someone else in the local media, will tell the story for you.
How many times do these spectacular misfires have to occur, particularly with some of our local school systems, before the “highly educated” folks in charge learn these lessons?
The latest mess happened last week at Murphey Middle School, with the hideously violent attack of an 11-year-old girl on a female teacher. Before you scoff at the damage an 11-year-old girl can do to a teacher, let me inform you that this 11-year-old girl is 5’5” tall and weighs 170 pounds. And that ain’t belly fat, either. (To compare, most of the healthy males attending Westside High School with me didn’t top 170 pounds until we hit senior year.)
Considering the teacher in question has been described to me as late middle aged (50s) and considerably smaller than the student, you can understand why this situation was no joke and not to be taken lightly.
So this girl was no waif, but size was only part of the problem.
Not only did she knock the living hell out of a teacher, with several blows to the face and head, she was screaming obscenities and violently threatening anyone that came near her. One parent wrote to me that her child described the student as “sounding like something out of a scary movie” and she believed that no other student in the classroom was going to be safe as long as this troubled girl was in their midst.
When the school’s BOE police officer arrived on the scene, she challenged him and then popped him in the face for good measure. Keep in mind, this is all playing out in front of what the officer described as a “large crowd of students” and was witnessed by two additional teachers as well. (Two male teachers from what the report indicates. Why they didn’t immediately intervene and isolate the student is anyone’s guess, unless they were afraid of her.)
In an effort to subdue the girl with the least amount of physical damage or threat to others, the decision was made to use pepper spray to bring her down and, thankfully, that did the trick. Once she was restrained, her mother was called to the school and she apparently explained that her daughter suffers from “mental issues” and was on medication for the problems. (A layman’s guess here… but I would say the meds may need adjustment.)
So where did I get all this information? Not from the BOE, that is for damn sure. Rarely do I get to include a full Augusta Chronicle report of such a bizarre and complicated episode in this column, but here it is, purely for academic purposes, the article on the event from the August 5th edition of the AC:
“A ‘disciplinary incident’ involving a pupil took place Thursday afternoon at Murphey Middle School, the Richmond County School System confirmed Friday, but a spokesman said he could not make details public.
“Kaden Jacobs said the school system could not comment because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is intended to protect the privacy of education information and records.
“He did say there was a ‘disciplinary incident’ that occurred Thursday afternoon at the school on Bungalow Road.”
Don’t blame the Chronicle staff; they took what they were given and ran with it. And factually, it stands. Except for that part about the FERPA laws. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act does limit academic and other personal information that can be released by the school system about a child, but it does not include limiting access to reports of criminal activity and legal charges brought against a student. The properly redacted report seen on this page clearly shows the student will be charged with one count of simple battery.
One count of simple battery is incredibly generous. Someone should get to deduct that act of charity on a tax return.
At the very least, the student could be charged with two counts of aggravated assault or, more specifically, the charges detailed to specify that a teacher and a law officer were the targets of her attack. That is important because of this little tidbit shared with me by an attorney, familiar with protections of both professions via statute:
“In Georgia that simple battery charge could be a misdemeanor of high and aggravated nature if the victim was pregnant, over 65, a police officer, a caregiver, a school employee or if the crime is domestic. This misdemeanor is also punishable by up to one year but carries potential fines up to $5,000, times two in this case…”
So yes, this episode is far more complicated than a disciplinary incident and obviously should have been treated as such.
It was quite disappointed to be told by several BOE employees that the current administration was not in the habit of issuing detailed press releases on such unpleasant matters, and that they had standing orders to only give such information if it is officially requested in writing by working media. In other words, they “ain’t saying nuthin'” unless they absolutely have to “say sumthin’.”
It is also quite troubling that we have a number of Ph.D.s and other heavily educated, certified and sanctified personnel making six-figure salaries at the RC BOE who have to be educated on the finer points of FERPA by a college dropout. (That would be me.)
I am not here to demonize the 11-year-old student at the root of all this, a poor soul who obviously has serious and complicated issues to navigate. My heart goes out to her family with the sincere hope they can get her the help she needs.
But back to the real world. When a dramatic and violent episode like this occurs in the middle of a public school gymnasium in front of all the assorted pre-teens that go with it, and results in injuries, ambulance rides and criminal charges, the few folks that were not on hand to see it in person are in fact going to want to know about it. They are also going to want to know that the system is doing its level best to avoid future attacks, not only from this student, but from other similarly “at risk” children.
The 55-year-old teacher survived the attack, as did the police officer. Thank God in Heaven this troubled girl didn’t turn her wrath on a 65-pound 10-year-old. If she did, it may have been the second murder to occur within the walls of Murphey Middle School, ironically also coming at the hands of a mentally disturbed student.