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Richland One Special Needs Student Assaulted, Harassed And Bullied, Lawsuit Says

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The mother of a Columbia, South Carolina special needs student is suing Richland County District One after her daughter was assaulted, harassed, and bullied at school — and district officials ignored the problem, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The personal injury lawsuit is one of several recently filed against the scandal-scarred Richland One school district. In early October, a Richland One mother filed a lawsuit after her 5-year-old was allegedly sexually assaulted and harassed multiple times on a school bus this year.

According to the latest lawsuit, a group of students at Lower Richland High School in Columbia, South Carolina started mocking and making fun of the student — who is called J.F. in the lawsuit to protect her privacy — in August, 2019.

J.F. called her parents and told them about the bullying that day and her parents came to school to speak with administration, according to the lawsuit. Lower Richland officials assured the girl’s parents that they would make sure the bullies would leave J.F. alone.

But the bullying continued, according to the lawsuit.

Days later, the same group of girls threatened to fight J.F. at the bus stop, the lawsuit said.

After this, J.F.’s mother made a serious effort to reach LRHS Principal Ericka Hursey. She called the principal every day for a week in an attempt to schedule a meeting, but her messages went unanswered, according to the lawsuit.

J.F.’s mother, determined to speak with a Richland One official, then went up the chain of leadership. She left a message for School Board Commissioner Cheryl Harris — who is up for re-election this November — but she did not respond to J.F.’s mother, according to the lawsuit.

The Richland One mother then tried again to meet with Hursey and was told she was busy. J.F.’s mother instead met with three assistant principals to discuss her daughter’s situation.

At this point, J.F. was afraid to go to class because of the bullying, her mother told administrators. J.F. would often hide in the bathroom to avoid this group of girls, the lawsuit said.

She regularly cried at school, “but the teachers and administrators would not investigate why she was upset,” the lawsuit said.

J.F.’s mother was assured by administrators they would put an end to the bullying, but shortly after the meeting the same group of girls continued to harass and threaten J.F., according to the lawsuit.

The bullying then escalated, and J.F.’s mother met with LRHS officials again in October 2019, according to the lawsuit. School administrators said that if the group of girls attacked J.F., they would be expelled. They said this as the girls “had yet to be appropriately disciplined by the administration,” the lawsuit said.

Weeks later, J.F. heard that the group of girls planned to attack her on Oct. 25, 2019. She told LRHS counselor Bernadette Darby about the threat and said she was scared, but administration didn’t do anything, the lawsuit said.

A short time after she spoke with the administrator, J.F. was assaulted by the girls in an area that was not supervised by teachers, the lawsuit said. Several students saw the attack and at least one other student videoed the incident.

J.F. was injured and taken to the emergency room by her mother, according to the lawsuit. She was hurt so badly she had to miss several days of school and use crutches to walk.

“She was not provided any assistance by the school in maneuvering around campus with her books and crutches,” the lawsuit said. Not only that, Richland One officials told J.F.’s mother they didn’t want her to use the crutches because they were a safety hazard.

One day, a boy stole J.F.’s crutches and he was not punished for it, according to the lawsuit.

Months later, J.F. was assaulted again in January 2020 in the media center of Lower Richland High School.

One girl struck J.F.’s face with a closed fist so hard she knocked her to the ground, the lawsuit said. Another girl punched J.F. as she was on the ground.

J.F. sustained injuries in this incident also, the lawsuit said.

After each assault, Richland One officials had J.F., a special needs student, sign a written statement without her parents seeing either statement.

After the January assault, some of the girls were disciplined, but were not expelled, according to the lawsuit.

Richland One “created and fostered a culture and environment where
bullying, harassment, and intimidation were tolerated,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also takes aim at “some members” of the problematic Richland One board of commissioners and Superintendent Craig Witherspoon.

“By their own comments, actions and inactions, [they] regularly exhibited bullying and a general tolerance and acceptance of the same,” the lawsuit said. “They fostered a climate of indifference and secrecy regarding bullying and violence in the District, and exhibited an unwillingness to implement and enforce disciplinary measures upon students who violate the rules.

The plaintiff is suing Richland One for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, assault and battery, premise liability, negligent supervision, and outrage and reckless intentional infliction of emotional distress.

J.F. suffered extreme emotional distress that resulted in permanent damage, the lawsuit said.

Columbia, South Carolina attorney Jennifer Randolph Purdy is representing J.F.’s mother in the lawsuit.

Here are some links to previous coverage of the Richland One school district:

Employee/ Student problems:

Leadership/ School Board/ Spending Problems:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mandy Matney

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].

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