Cardinal Newman parents speak out

Two students involved in racist videos and physical threats expelled

Miscellany Photo/Jeff Blake: A 16-year-old Cardinal Newman student made racist and threatening videos and distributed them via text messages. Parents met with school officials at the Columbia school Aug. 8 to find out why they were not informed until it was reported by local media the weekend of Aug. 3.

COLUMBIA—A second student at Cardinal Newman School has been expelled in relation to threats made against the school, according to Principal Robert Loia. 

The announcement came Aug. 8 during an emotionally charged town hall meeting held at the school in the wake of days of controversy set off by racist and threatening videos made and distributed via text messages by a former student, 16. The youth was arrested by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department on July 17. This student, unidentified because of his age, was charged with making threats in regard to statements that he was going to “shoot up” the school. 

The teen was first allowed to withdraw from the school, but this decision outraged many parents and Loia said at the meeting that the student’s record will now say that he was expelled. 

Parents were unaware of the incident until it was reported by local news media the weekend of Aug. 3. Loia and the sheriff’s department have both been criticized for not releasing the information as soon as the videos came to light in mid-July. 

Cardinal Newman officials were made aware of the first set of videos after a parent found them on her child’s tablet on July 13. This set of videos featured the 16-year-old using racist language and talking about violence against African-Americans. After investigating, Cardinal Newman officials were shown a second set of videos that featured the same student making threats against the school. 

Hundreds of parents and community members attended the meeting, along with diocesan officials, pastors and principals from area parishes and schools. 

Sandra Leatherwood, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, began with an emotional statement. 

“I am here as an African-American mother of three sons who attended Cardinal Newman,” Leatherwood said. “I am in my 44th year of Catholic education and I never thought I’d be attending a meeting on this topic. Growing up in South Alabama, I witnessed firsthand hatred, bigotry and prejudice … I hope that what we plan here will ensure that your children and any who attend our school won’t have to endure what we are facing tonight.” 

At the meeting and in a statement released after, Loia called the videos “evil, disgusting and wrong” and said he had never seen anything like it in 30 years of Catholic education. 

He presented a timeline of events and said he did not initially release the information to parents because he thought any threat to the school had been eliminated by the student’s arrest. 

“I am sorry we did not let you know sooner,” he said. “Please accept my apology.” 

No further information was released in regard to the second student.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott also held a press conference on Aug. 8 to update the community about developments in the case. 

Lott said the information was not released earlier by his department because the case was still under investigation and he and other officers believed any potential threat to Cardinal Newman students ended when the 16-year-old was arrested. 

He said the youth was detained at a juvenile facility after the arrest on July 17. On that day, sheriff’s deputies also executed a search warrant at the student’s home and removed 20 guns from the residence. Lott would not comment about the student’s current whereabouts. 

The sheriff echoed community frustration that the student cannot be charged in relation to the videos. 

“As shocking and disturbing as those videos are, there is no state law against them,” Lott said. “It’s a shame that South Carolina does not have a law against hate crimes.”

Several parents and local residents said they have misgivings about the safety of their children and the community in the wake of the videos. Others questioned who shot the footage, and asked whether the students who viewed it but did not report it would face disciplinary action. Loia said other disciplinary action is being taken but would not give specifics. 

During the meeting, one woman read a letter written by an African-American student at Cardinal Newman who described incidents of racial insensitivity she has experienced in daily life at the school. Other parents raised concerns about past incidents of bullying and insensitivity that they say went unaddressed. 

In response, Loia said Cardinal Newman will institute several initiatives to address the concerns. 

Among them, Loia said the sheriff’s department will be on campus on the first day of school Aug. 20 and for about two weeks after. He said the school will also hold active shooter training for students and faculty, undergo a threat assessment from the sheriff’s department, and look into hiring additional security and adding gates at campus entrances. 

Loia said crisis counselors will be available for students during the first week of school, and access to counselors and student support staff will be expanded. 

The principal said there are also plans to hold ongoing diversity and bias training for all students and faculty, include more material about different races and cultures in all classes, and incorporate more diversity in hiring.