South Carolina

SC senator says she didn’t mean to downplay ‘scuffle’ that led to 5th-grader’s death

The South Carolina state senator who commented on the death of a fifth-grader following a fight in a elementary school classroom on Monday sought to clarify what she said about the fatal incident.

When Sen. Margie Bright Matthews made her April 2 comments on the floor of the South Carolina State House, she said she wanted to dispel speculation surrounding the death of Raniya Wright, The State reported.

On Monday, Bright Matthews said “it was never my intention to relate specifics on the incident,” in a post on her Facebook page.

In what she called a “response to Forest Hills Elementary School fight,” Bright Matthews clarified the intent of what she said and the words she used a week earlier.

At that time, the state senator said what happened in the classroom monitored by a substitute teacher was “a simple back and forth between two young girls,” according to The State.

In Monday’s Facebook post Bright Matthews said, “I was simply sharing that by all accounts, this was not a gang fight. It was an incident between 2 fifth grade girls. The words, ‘scuffle’ and ‘going back and forth’ were not used or intended to minimize or trivialize the (altercation) between the girls.”

After a classroom fight March 25, paramedics airlifted Raniya from her elementary school to a hospital in Charleston, according to Colleton County school officials. She died two days later.

The school district previously said it will wait until the Colleton County sheriff’s investigation is over before commenting, The State reported. The sheriff’s and coroner’s office have offered little information about the incident or Raniya’s autopsy.

One student was suspended during the investigation, the sheriff’s office said in a statement, but “because this is an ongoing investigation, we ask that the community understands that the information we can share is limited.”

Bright Matthews was not as tight-lipped. In the post she said she has known the families involved in the deadly incident “for many years,” but her words did not speak for them.

While she walked back her comments, she was not backing down in her response to the issue in a larger sense. Bright Matthews said class size was an issue and so, too, is bullying.

“I will be introducing a bill to reduce the number of students per class in K-6 grades to no more than 14 students per 1 teacher (14:1),” Bright Matthews said in the post. “... I continue to advocate for mental health counselors in our local school districts to counsel elementary and middle school students on the crises they face during episodes of bullying.”

She also said she wants to work with the community to learn “why this horrific tragedy occurred. Only then, can we truly work together to ensure that it never happens again.”

In an interview on “Good Morning America” on Monday, Raniya’s mother, Ashley Wright, said she had complained to the school “numerous times” that her daughter Raniya was being bullied.

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.