Irmo High School to “retool” school operations after students stage walkout over safety concerns

The hundreds of students who staged the walkout on Friday about 20 minutes before the closing...
The hundreds of students who staged the walkout on Friday about 20 minutes before the closing bell are outraged and concerned about their safety. They are demanding answers from administrators.(WIS)
Published: Feb. 5, 2022 at 1:43 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2022 at 10:18 AM EST
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IRMO, S.C. (WIS) - In response to a walkout on the campus of Irmo High School on Friday afternoon, the school will be moving to virtual learning on Monday and Tuesday of next week and then opening a special academy on Wednesday to meet the needs of its “highest-need students.”

The hundreds of students who staged the walkout on Friday about 20 minutes before the closing bell are outraged and concerned about their safety. They are demanding answers from administrators.

This comes following a rise in fights at the school in recent weeks. Students also detailed claims of sexual assault and harassment that they say happened on grounds as a driving force behind their protest.

Lexington-Richland School District 5 Superintendent Dr. Akil Ross addressed both of these issues Friday evening.

Ross said that while he can’t get into specifics of any case of sexual assault, all claims are taken seriously and investigated.

“Students have due process rights,” he said. “So because Facebook says one thing, does not mean that we can make a charge off of that. We have to go through and not violate any due process while making sure that we provide the safety and security for those who may feel intimidated or threatened by a student on campus.”

Ross said suspensions and expulsions are dealt with on a case by case basis, and that if a crime were to be committed by a student, charges would be filed and arrests would be made.

“We serve the public,” he said. “And so if you are free to be in public, you are 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, intimidations and weapons through this tool, which is constantly monitored.

Demonstrators on Friday believe their voices aren’t being heard.

“You get into a career with children to help them, to teach them, to let them grow and learn and be loved, not to push them back and scare them and shut them up when something this serious is going on,” Irmo High School junior Heidi Boyce said.

Ashley Bruccoli, another student, said she is fearful going to school each day.

“We want to feel safe here,” she said. “We come to school to learn, not to get put on lockdown.”

The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department had an increased presence at Irmo High this week. LCSD said Monday’s shooting at the River Oaks Apartments may have been related to fights at the school.

RELATED STORY | LCSD searching for suspect in shooting; dispute may have started at Irmo High School

To better address the safety and security of all students, Ross announced that Irmo High will be going virtual on Monday and Tuesday as they “retool.”

On Wednesday, a special academy with enhanced supervision will be opened to address 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 with identifying ways in which to healthily cope in the tough mental issues and circumstances in which we deal with. What we saw today is kids crying out. And now we’re here to respond. And we have to earn that trust. And this academy is a way that we can earn that trust.”

The administration has already identified students to take part in this academy, but Ross added that students can also self-select this option.

The academy will include wraparound services on mental health, smaller classrooms and opportunities to learn restorative practices.

The plan to set-up the academy at Irmo High is an idea that had been in the works, but was “accelerated” by Friday’s protest, according to Ross. Lexington-Richland 5 is operating off last year’s budget, and will do what they can to ramp up the academy with those funds.

Next year’s budget won’t be passed until later this spring.

Existing staff will rotate into the new academy, and the district will also deploy its substitute pool and safety team in this effort.

Ross is asking the Irmo High community to join school and district officials in a virtual town hall on Tuesday night to hear concerns. The district will share more details on that in the coming days.

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