WHITEVILLE, N.C. (WECT) - A Whiteville High School Sophomore said she tried to walk away when other girls wanted to pick a fight on Tuesday. But Abrien Batten said she still got jumped, and suspended from school right along with the girls she said attacked her. Batten said she was simply defending herself but that administrators didn't seem to care about the details.
Someone started filming just before the incident in the school gym on Tuesday, leading Batten to believe this was a planned attack.
"Next thing I know I'm being blindsided by two of the girls. And they just start fighting. And somebody was pulling my hair the other girl knocked my glasses off and I was just trying to do anything I could to get them off of me because I couldn't see," Batten said, fighting back tears. "I've never been in a fight. This was my first altercation. I’m an honor student. I don't get in trouble I focus on my education for my future career, but I feel like with this happening now it could mess up my future goals that I have."
Batten hopes to go to NC State after she graduates, and become a veterinarian. She says she has no history of disciplinary issues, so she was shocked that the principal gave her a 10 day out of school suspension for an incident she swears she did not provoke and even tried to diffuse, the same punishment given to all the girls involved. Batten said she doesn’t even know the girls who jumped her. She said she walked away from them when they started picking on her friend and asking for a fight. Abrian showed WECT video that she says one of the instigators posted on social media, apparently bragging about the assault and the suspension.
“We tore that head up,” one Instagram post reads over video of the fight. “imma [sic] eat these 10 days,” the same post continues, with a laughing emoji.
While the student who apparently attacked Batten seems to to be celebrating their suspension, Abrian is devastated. She's also upset her reputation as a good student and efforts to stop the fight seemed to have made no difference to administrators.
Abrien’s mother, Adrian Batten, is also upset that the school did not appear to follow it’s own disciplinary policies.
"This doesn’t make any sense. Investigations - nothing was done properly. Nothing followed the proper channels,” Adrian said, holding copies of the student handbook and Whiteville City Schools disciplinary policies.
According to those policies, the “pre-suspension rights of the student” say “a student must be provided with an opportunity for an informal hearing with the principal or designee before a short-term suspension is imposed…and to make statements in defense or mitigation of the charges.”
Batten’s suspension notice says she was suspended less than half an hour after the attack. Batten said she was never given the chance to explain her side of the story to her principal, Michael Hobbs, and he simply asked her to write a description of what happened. Before reading it, he handed her the notice of suspension which had already been filled out.
Setrina Hall, the mother of two of the other girls involved in the fight, also contacted WECT. She said her youngest daughter, Teonna Hall, is an honor student athlete who has never been in a fight before either, and was she simply trying to break up a fight involving her older sister. Like Adrian Batten, Setrina is upset the principal did not look further into the details of what happened before giving the same punishment to every girl involved.
WECT also learned the Whiteville High School Student/Parent Handbook allows students to defend themselves:
“A student who is attacked may use reasonable force in self-defense but only to the extent to free himself/herself from the attack and notify proper school authorities. A student who exceeds this reasonable force may be disciplined even though he/she may not have provoked the fight.”
Batten said the attack began with girls hitting her from behind before knocking off her glasses. She said she used her arms to fend off further injury until a friend pulled her away from the pileup in the gym, but her actions were only in self-defense.
Abrien and Adrian Batten are also concerned about the severity of the punishment handed down for someone with no previous disciplinary problems.
According to the student handbook, fighting is a Class II Violation. The consequences for a first time offense is listed as a three day in-school-suspension. Going by the book, there are several additional intermediate level punishments for subsequent Class II Violations, and a student is supposed to have seven disciplinary referrals before a 10 day out-of-school suspension comes into play.
Hobbs declined to comment on his decision to WECT, referring us to the school superintendent. Whiteville City Schools Superintendent Marc Whichard provided the following statement via email:
“We do not provide comment on individual student matters. Whiteville City Schools takes active measures to ensure the safety and discipline of all of our students. Unfortunately, we occasionally have issues that occur where disciplinary consequences must be assigned after a thorough investigation has been completed,” Whichard wrote. When asked for more information, he directed us to board policies available on the district website.
We also reached out to several Whiteville City School Board members for comment.
School Board member Greg Merritt was openly hostile when reached by phone with questions about the suspension.
“We done our business in accordance with our policy. You’re just looking for a story and you’re not going to get it from me. I just reiterate what our superintendent already told you,” Merritt said. He suggested WECT might reach out to the board chairman for more information, but when asked for the chairman’s number, Merritt said he had it but we’d have to hunt for it ourselves.
When we later got Board Chairman Coleman Barbour’s number from central office, he said they let their administrators handle “day-to-day operations” at the schools. Barbour said he was unable to elaborate further because this matter may come before the board on appeal.