IRMO, SC (WIS) – In response to a walkout at the Irmo High School campus on Friday afternoon, the school will transition to virtual learning on Monday and Tuesday next week, then open a special academy on Wednesday to respond to needs of its “neediest students”.
The hundreds of students who staged the Friday walkout about 20 minutes before the closing bell are outraged and worried for their safety. They demand answers from administrators.
This follows an increase in fights at school in recent weeks. The students also detailed allegations of sexual assault and harassment that they say happened for reasons that prompted their protest.
Lexington-Richland School District 5 Superintendent Dr. Akil Ross addressed both of these issues Friday night.
Ross said while he cannot go into specifics about any sexual assault cases, all allegations are taken seriously and investigated.
“Students have due process rights,” he said. “So because Facebook is saying one thing, that means we can make it a filler. We must follow and not violate any due process while ensuring the safety and security of those who may feel intimidated or threatened by a student on campus.
Ross said suspensions and expulsions are handled on a case-by-case basis and if a crime were to be committed by a student, charges would be laid and arrests would be made.
“We are at the service of the public,” he said. “And so if you’re free to be in public, you’re free to come to a public school.”
Ross said there are tools to protect students, including the Stop It app. Students can report bullying, threats, harassment, intimidation and weapons through this tool, which is constantly monitored.
On Friday, protesters believe their voices are not being heard.
“You embark on a career with children to help them, to teach them, to let them grow and learn and be loved, not to push them away, scare them and silence them when something so serious happens,” Irmo High School said junior Heidi Boyce.
Ashley Bruccoli, another student, said she was afraid to go to school every day.
“We want to feel safe here,” she said. “We come to school to learn, not to be locked up.”
The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department had an increased presence at Irmo High this week. The LCSD said Monday’s shooting at the River Oaks apartments may have been linked to fights at school.
RELATED STORY | LCSD searching for suspect in shooting; the conflict may have started at Irmo High School
To better ensure the safety and security of all students, Ross announced that Irmo High will go virtual on Monday and Tuesday as they “retool”.
On Wednesday, a special academy with reinforced supervision will be opened to meet the needs of students with the greatest behavioral difficulties.
Ross called it a “school within a school” and likened it to training wheels for these students.
“A lot of students struggle with their anger,” he said. “They struggle to identify ways to deal healthily with the difficult mental issues and circumstances in which we deal. What we saw today are children screaming. And now we are here to answer. And we have to earn that trust. And this academy is a way to earn that trust.
The administration has already identified students to participate in this academy, but Ross added that students can also choose this option on their own.
The academy will include comprehensive mental health services, smaller classrooms and opportunities to learn restorative practices.
The plan to create the academy at Irmo High is an idea that was in the works, but was “accelerated” by Friday’s protest, according to Ross. Lexington-Richland 5 is operating with last year’s budget and will do everything possible to grow the academy with those funds.
Next year’s budget will not be adopted until late spring.
Existing staff will transfer to the new academy, and the district will also deploy its replacement pool and security team in this effort.
Ross is asking the Irmo High community to join school and district officials in a virtual town hall Tuesday night to hear concerns. The district will share more details on this in the coming days.
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