Education

Cardinal Newman vows changes in tense meeting with parents; 2nd student expelled

Editor’s note: this article has been updated to include comments from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston

Cardinal Newman is promising sweeping changes in the wake of a 16-year-old former student’s racist video and threats to “shoot up” the school.

At a testy Thursday evening town hall meeting, principal Robert Loia promised the crowd of more than 350 the school would make several changes to improve diversity and student safety. He also said another student involved with the video had been expelled.

The changes promised Thursday night are:

  • Offer active shooter training to all faculty
  • Have a law enforcement presence on campus at the beginning and end of the school day for two weeks
  • Increase school security
  • Consider adding gates to the school’s entrance
  • Increase security at athletic events
  • Request a threat assessment from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department
  • Develop “a systematic approach to keep our finger on the pulse of student well-being” using the school’s existing psychological services
  • Implement faculty diversity training
  • Implement a diverse speaker series throughout the school year
  • Increasing faculty

“This has been a difficult moment for our campus,” Loia said at the town hall. “It’s made us worry about our children’s lives. It’s been especially hurtful to our African American community.”

Parents, however, slammed the school district for keeping secret the threats for two weeks and for allowing the 16-year-old who appeared in a racist video to withdraw from the school instead of expelling him. That student was later charged by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department with threatening a school.

“Do our lives mean that little to you?” said Eboni Nelson, reading a statement from an eighth grade student. “Cardinal Newman has failed as a whole.”

Loia has apologized for not immediately letting the parents know about the threat. The video and arrest became public on Aug. 2 when The State reported on them.

After the story broke, Cardinal Newman changed the student’s record to show that he was expelled, according to Maria Aselage, a spokeswoman from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which oversees the school.

It’s unclear how the second student was involved with the video, but Loia said that student was not the person who held the camera. Earlier Thursday, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said no additional criminal charges are pending in the case.

“We don’t know who took the video,” Loia said.

How did we get here?

The 16-year-old former Cardinal Newman student was arrested on July 17. Anyone convicted of threatening a school, which is a misdemeanor, can be sentenced to a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.

The video came to light after a parent discovered a video on a student’s tablet and reported to the school on July 13.

In the video, which was posted to a group text on May 11, the former student loads a long gun and describes his hatred for black people. In the background is a box of Jordan shoes — “the favorite pair of shoes for a black man” he says — before firing three times at the box.

As the end of the video, he turns to the camera and says “F--- all (racial slur).”

The sheriff’s department was called, but authorities determined no charges could be filed.

A few days later, a parent discovered the threat to “shoot up the school” in several text messages that included at least one video.

The sheriff’s department was again notified, and the student was arrested.

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In a subsequent video, the fires multiple, rapid-fire shots from a different long gun at the box after saying “I guess our (racial slur) hasn’t learned his lesson yet.”

When police raided the former student’s house on July 17, they confiscated 20 weapons, which included pistols, long guns and at least one shotgun, according to a previous article from The State.

The student didn’t carry out the threats, but it still left scars.

“I had a rising 11th grader who woke up one morning and said ‘daddy, I would have been gone,’” said Kevin Hogan, an assistant junior varsity softball coach at Cardinal Newman. “I went into my room and cried.”

No expulsion

At Thursday night’s town hall, several parents complained about the school’s decision to let the student withdraw instead of being expelled.

“If we’re going to give the student the opportunity to withdraw instead of being expelled, we’re really doing our community a disservice,” one town hall attendee said.

When another parent pressed Loia on why he allowed the student to withdraw, Loia stumbled, saying that was “common practice” and something he had been trained to do.

“Upon reflection on that, there is an issue with” allowing the student to withdraw, Loia said.

It’s unclear whether or not his withdrawal, as opposed to an expulsion, will make it easier for him to enroll in a nearby school. Public school districts are required to look at a student’s disciplinary record before accepting a transfer, according to state law. Private schools are allowed to admit students as they see fit.

The former student who appears in the video had only been at Cardinal Newman for a year, Loia said. When that student applied to Cardinal Newman, there was no expulsion on his record, according to a school official who spoke at the meeting.

“As a community member, I have some concerns about how this was handled from a public safety perspective,” said Deva Kellan, who attended the meeting. “The response did not feel like people who had been working in education for a while, but they’re all veterans.”

The fallout

The videos have sent shockwaves throughout South Carolina. State Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, said she will file legislation that would stiffen penalties for threatening people based on their race, ethnicity, religion or nationality and require school officials to report such threats to police, according to a previous article from The State.

The FBI has been contacted regarding the case, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a Thursday press conference.

Since South Carolina does not have a hate crime law, Lott said he was unable to arrest the student for the racist video alone. Once authorities learned about the student’s threat to “shoot up” the school, he was arrested, Lott said.

Lott called on the state legislature to join the overwhelming majority of states in passing a hate crime law. South Carolina is one of four states that do not have a hate crime law.

“It is an absolute shame that this state does not have a law against hate crimes,” Lott said at the press conference.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Why is The State covering this incident so closely?

On Friday, August 2, The State reported that a 16-year-old student from a private Catholic school in Richland County was arrested in mid-July after school administrators received information about racist videos and texts circulating among students. Officials said they arrested the student after discovering he threatened to “shoot up the school.” The State believes it’s important to give readers a full understanding, especially for situations in which a potential act of violence against our community members is threatened. As a local news company, we believe the public should know details about the threat as well as the fears and questions of parents, students and others.

Mass shootings are the dominant public safety issue of our time. In less than 24 hours after The State’s story published, a domestic terrorist attack on El Paso residents took over 20 lives. Shortly after, 10 more were taken in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. History provides a record of people who made videos promoting violence and hatred — like ones made by Charleston shooter Dylann Roof in 2015 — and then carried out violent acts of terror. Similarly, the videos and messages that the 16-year-old Cardinal Newman student is accused of recording and sharing resembled motives that could not be ignored.

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