High school student attacked


Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 11:40 p.m.

Suspicion over recent thefts at Fort White High School escalated into an attack on a freshman during class earlier this week, causing school officials to suspend seven students including some members of the varsity basketball team.

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office may charge several high school students accused of ambushing a 16-year-old student they thought had stolen their belongings from the gym earlier in the week.

Deputies and the school's principal said the student targeted in Tuesday's attack did not commit the thefts. But other students thought he was involved because he had been seen in the area where the items were taken shortly before the theft was discovered. Deputies arrested two other students, one 14 and another 15, for the thefts Wednesday.

Seven male students were suspended, two for 10 days and the rest for two days, after the student was attacked, said Principal Keith Hatcher. Four are members of the school's varsity basketball team. The two with the longer suspension also have had their privileges for extracurricular activities suspended for the rest of the school year.

It was the second time that members of the team have been involved in a fight this month. Varsity basketball players from Chiefland High School and Fort White fought near the end of a game on Jan. 10. The melee also involved some fans. The four suspended after the incident at school were among nine suspended from the team for a week and at least two events after the fight in Chiefland.

Hatcher said he is following up with the Florida High School Athletic Association about the fight at the game. Meanwhile messages were going out to parents this week via a phone calling system about the fight at school, and intercom announcements at the school this week were aimed at reassuring students and reminding teachers about safety measures, he said.

The injured teenager has since transferred to another county school, Hatcher said.

The student's mother said her son was frightened after the incident.

"I'm not sending him to a school where he's scared to death," she said Friday.

"They pushed him so hard that he flew over the desk. Somebody kicked him in the head," she said.

He was left with scrapes and bruises.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said she didn't believe the students responsible for the attack had been punished enough. She questioned the school's security as well as how long it took for officials to notify her about the incident. It occurred mid-morning, but she said she didn't learn about it until the afternoon.

The wrongfully-accused student had been in a reading class behind locked, closed doors when the other students involved in the attack finished their physical education class, Hatcher said.

"Instead of going directly to dress out, they detoured and went to that class," Hatcher said.

Hatcher believes another student opened the door for the group, not realizing what was about to happen. The boys came inside at the end of the class and confronted the freshman.

The boy's mother said the group checked her son's belongings for the stolen items and wanted to see if he was carrying them. They refused to stop although the female teacher tried to get between them and her son.

Even when it was apparent her son didn't have their belongings, the group continued to harass him, the woman said.

He ended up curled up on the floor while the teacher contacted other adults who, along with some students, stopped the group.

Hatcher said there are no security changes planned and no staff is facing any disciplinary action in light of what he called an isolated incident.

But teachers are being reminded to follow safety measures such as keeping class doors locked, not allowing students to open those doors for other students and keeping an eye on who is at the door, he said.

Lise Fisher can be reached at 352-374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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