UPDATE| Weapon incidents: Richmond County Schools by the numbers

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Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Every time a student brings a weapon to school the state records it. A year ago, On Your Side investigation revealed Richmond County gun numbers didn't match up with state records. Since then, Richmond County has changed the way it reports to the state. However the result is higher and sometimes misleading the numbers. For example, there was a 240% increase in weapon incidents last year.

A third grader shot during class. Frantic parents rush to W.S. Hornsby. We were there last year. "I just think that for some reason with everything that is going on in the world we here in Augusta seem to think it cant happen to us," Tandra Williams a parent at W.S. Hornsby said. Thankfully, the bullet only grazed the girl. Her classmate, the boy who fired the gun, found it at home. His grandmother's boyfriend was charged.

It's just one of 95 cases where a student brought a weapon into a Richmond County school last year. The Georgia Department of Education ranks the district as eighth in the state for most amount of weapons brought to class.

Richmond County is the 12th biggest school district in the state. But, big doesn't always correlate with big weapon numbers. Forsyth County has about ten thousand more students than Richmond County. The state shows 23 weapons violations there last year, none of which included guns.

"The culture we live in a weapons culture not just the kids but the adults. That's just the culture we are living in today," Dr. Wayne Frazier said. "What we got to do is come up with a plan to get out of that behavior to be successful," he added. The newly elected school board member believes behavior starts young.

According to the numbers, Frazier is right. Most of the students bringing weapons into Richmond County schools are in middle school Last year, students brought 50 knives and 4 handguns to school last year. The rest of the weapons are categorized as "other" which includes things like pepper spray and brass knuckles.

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT0-- The Georgia Department of Education ranks Richmond County School System as 8th out 204 school districts for bullying.

Each flip of a page brings back a memory of school, but not all brings back smiles. "I was sad. I was always by myself. I was a loner, didn't have any friends. I didn't talk to anybody," Samantha Johnson remembered about middle school. "They would follow me into the bathroom and try to gang up on me. A teacher would have to come in and try to break it up," the now 18-year old said. Johnson says she told her teachers but nothing stopped the bullying. Her mother eventually removed her from the school. "That's when they actually wanted to resolve the issue but it was already too late," she said.

Richmond County is eighth in the state for the most students involved in bullying. The worst is at Craig Houghton Elementary where twenty-three students were involved in bullying. Eighteen students were involved in it at Glenn Hills High School. There are sixteen incidents documented at W.S. Hornsby.

Bullying is listed in the student code of conduct. It is defined in the code as "intentional" and "persistent" "harassment, intimidation or threats.'

"I think its a huge problem and it doesn't seem to be getting any better," Johnson said.

There were 256 cases of bullying reported in Richmond County schools last year which is a 103% from the prior school year. However, that number may not represent a growing trend. A year ago, an On Your Side investigation revealed Richmond County school gun numbers didn't match up with state numbers. Richmond County has since changed the way it reports all incidents to the state. As a result, the numbers are now much higher.

Georgia picked several Richmond County schools for a new program. "We are implementing our PBIS system which is positive behavior intervention and support," Nathan Benedict said. He is the school climate specialist for Richmond County Schools. PBIS teaches appropriate behavior in and out of the classroom. The program has been successful in reducing disciplinary incidents. Craig houghton Elementary is one of nine schools in the county that is part of the program.

"It took a lot of help from my teachers and friends," Johnson said. She is now a sophomore in college. She spends her free time mentoring victims of school bullying.
"I think its going to take more people to stand up for people who don't have a voice," she said.

On Your Side is also digging into the numbers for Aiken County and Columbia County schools. We will air our investigation into Columbia County the week after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGHT) -- Richmond County Schools rank in the top ten in the state for the most cases of sexual harassment, battery and offenses.

15-year-old "Maria" spends most of her time at home with her mother when she isn't at school.

"I just kind of stick to myself now," the teen said.

Maria doesn't want you to know her real name. It's tough for the 9th grader to tell her story even after two years.

"I was on the bus one day some boys grabbed me," she quietly said.

She says she was riding a crowded bus home from middle school when a group of boys started groping her.

"They grabbed my butt and my legs and stuff," Maria remembered, "I was scared." It was the first time a boy touched her. She was 13 years old.

"I was angry. I was upset I was scared for her," Maria's mother said.

She says she talked with the assistant principal. "I was assured I would hear something back that day and that would be resolved," her mother said.

She says school officials told her the bus camera wasn't working and the boys denied touching her daughter. She says that was the end of the conversation.

"Very angry. I mean if it was an adult that it happened to I'm pretty sure there would be criminal charges and they would be held accountable even if the person claims he didn't do it," Maria's mother said.

Sexual harassment falls under rule 8b in the student code of conduct. It is defined as "..unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature...which includes unwelcome touching..."

Last year's tribunals show the most violations of rule 8 at a high school were at Crosscreek (5), for middle, Pine Hill (4) and for elementary, Hornsby (2) which is K-8th. Rule 8 covers a wide variety of violations though.

For example, a student last year violated the rule after urinating on a wall and another for having a condom and causing a disruption at school with it.

Not every violation goes before a tribunal so the Department of Education's numbers are higher. It ranks Richmond County 8th out of 204 school districts for the most amounts of sexual battery, sexual harassment and sex offenses.

According to the state, the highest amount happens at middle schools. Murphy Middle had 29 cases last year, Hornsby 23, and Sego 14.

"Every once in awhile we might see sexual assault which is unauthorized touching," Captain Ted Brown said.

He says sexual harassment cases only come to him when a school resource officer gets involved and believes something criminal took place.

"I think if public safety had been notified and there was an incident report or something then maybe someone would have done more," Maria's mother said.

She still wonders why Richmond County School Board of Education Police did not get involved after she complained.

"I think the school should have turned it over to public safety. I don't think the assistant principal should have taken upon himself," she said.

Maria changed a lot after the bus incident. She is more withdrawn and she also covers up even when it's hot outside.

"I just don't like showing my arms," she said. She says she doesn't want boys to look at her.

There were 169 cases of sexual harassment, battery, and offenses in Richmond County schools last year. According to her mother, Maria's case was never documented.

Richmond County ranks 12th largest school district in the state with 31,398 students. Columbia County ranks 16th with 26,120 students. Richmond County had 29,258 total incidents last year. Columbia County had 7,121 incidents last year.

On Your Side will continue to go through the numbers this week. Wednesday we look at bullying and on Thursday weapons.

Monday, Nov. 14, 2016

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Weapons, assaults, and bullying happen in schools across the nation but exactly how often and where?

On Your Side wanted to know and we wanted parents to know also so we spent months reviewing reports, specifically tribunal reports from 56 Richmond County schools.

We then took those reports and separated them out, school by school.

On Your Side looked at the violations, the number of students involved, the school and the punishment. What we found surprised us, and might surprise you too.

Glenn Hills Middle School and Meadowbrook Elementary tie for the most weapons brought to class in 2015-16. It's those types of violations which can lead to a tribunal.

Nathan Benedict knows the process well.

"For students that seriously violate the expectations in the code of conduct, principals can refer them to tribunal," the school climate specialist said.

Here's how a tribunal works:

First, a student violates the student code of conduct. The principal decides the best form of punishment which is usually in or out of school suspension.

The principal will refer serious violations, which includes breaking the law, to a tribunal. The tribunal must meet within ten days.

The tribunal is made up of a three person panel which are all retired principals.

Similar to court, parents can present evidence and witnesses and so can the school.

If the student is guilty then the parent and school each make a recommendation for punishment. Parents are also allowed to appeal.

Some cases don't go to tribunal but will go to Richmond County Board of Education Police.

"Anything of criminal nature that's a lot of times when we get involved in it," Captain Ted Brown said.

Bullying, theft and assault are some of the cases his department investigates.

According to Georgia's Department of Education, bullying is a big problem in Richmond County Schools. Out of 204 school districts, Richmond County Schools rank #8 for the most amount of students involved in bullying.

Tuesday, On Your Side digs into sexual harassment cases at school. We will show you how often it's happening and where. Later this week we will also break down the numbers for weapons and bullying.