Principal: Attack “cast a cloud” over Westlake High School
The principal of Westlake High School, where a student was severely beaten in a classroom this week, apologized to parents Wednesday and said the victim should have received outside medical attention more quickly.
“As your principal, I offer a heartfelt apology to the students and families impacted by this incident,” Grant Rivera wrote in a letter to parents. “I assure you we take very seriously our responsibility to maintain safety, order, and discipline at Westlake.”
The 16-year-old student who was attacked was expected to be released from a hospital Wednesday night, following surgery Tuesday to repair a broken jaw. He also suffered a broken nose.
Five of his schoolmates face criminal charges, school system officials say. Westlake, a Fulton County School, is in Southwest Atlanta between Campbellton Road and Camp Creek Parkway. Last year the school reported 69 fights resulting in 27 serious injuries, said Samantha Evans, a spokeswoman for the school system.
Rivera, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the incident has “cast a cloud that doesn’t reflect the character of our students and families.”
While proper procedures were followed for the most part, his school’s medical staff should have sought outside help faster, he said.
“This situation concerns me greatly,” Rivera said. “Any time that a student is injured and any time we have students in a classroom, who are trying to learn, and this kind of distraction occurs, it is concerning. I believe that those students (involved in the attack) knew before and after that they would be held accountable.
“But the reality is, their success wasn’t a priority at the moment.”
Rivera, principal of the school since June, said the incident started with a verbal altercation that escalated. The attack took place shortly after lunch, when the five students jumped the victim as he sat in a science class, he said. Some of the attackers were also students in the class, while others entered the room to join the fray.
A substitute teacher was in the class, but Rivera said she responded “appropriately” and did not run out of class as some media reports indicated.
“She pressed the panic button and also sent a student to a classroom to get another teacher,” he said.
Rivera said the substitute did not attempt to get in the middle of the fight.
“We would advise a staff member not getting in the middle of a fight,” said Rivera, who said the subsititute had taught at the school before.
Several students broke up the fight.
Rivera said a school administrator and a school resource officer quickly responded to the call. A clinic assistant then arrived to provide medical treatment.
Rivera said the clinic assistant, who functions like a school nurse, took the student to the clinic but an ambulance was never called.
The victim’s mother drove him to a hospital after being called to the school about 40 minutes after the attack.
“The clinic assistant was not aware that the child had broken bones,” Rivera said. “It was her belief that he had a concussion.” Asked if the clinic assistant should have called for medical backup if she suspected a concussion, Rivera said yes.
“In hindsight, it would have been best to have an ambulance called immediately,” said Rivera, who was in the building Monday, but was not called. “The child was coherent. The child was monitored. But the administrator and the clinic assistant underestimated the degree of injury to the student.”
“My concern was that the clinic assistant and all the adults who came in contact with him, as principal I expect them to overreact,” Rivera said.
Evans said charges have been filed against one student and similar charges, including aggravated battery, disrupting a public school and aggravated assault, will be filed against the others.
Calls to the Fulton County District Attorney’s office were not immediately returned. Rivera said that each of the five students — who have been suspended — will also be disciplined under school system rules.
At Westlake on Wednesday morning before classes, Senior Kenta Posey said while fighting is a fact of high school life, brawls like the one that took place Monday are “rare.”
“They must’ve known there was a substitute teacher because most of the teachers have a very low tolerance for that,” Posey said.