After a video of two Seabreeze High School students tripping their daughter went viral, the victim’s parents say they had to push the school district to take action.
The parents of a 15-year-old girl with a disability who was tripped in a viral TikTok video say Seabreeze High School’s response was discriminatory.
Rodderick and Adrianne King said they had to push for the school to take appropriate action against two students who are accused of orchestrating the social media video, which garnered national attention. Now, they’re hoping their experience will prompt change in a district that’s no stranger to such accusations.
The Kings said school officials were slow to act and did not investigate fully after a video was posted online of their daughter, who has a language impairment and learning disability, being tripped by girls who she thought were her friends. And, they said, school officials repeatedly called the students’ behavior "horseplay," implying their daughter was in on the joke.
"It was assault," said Rodderick King, who has been a district employee for 18 years, most of that time as a teacher at Seabreeze High School. "This is something that my kid has to deal with for the rest of her life."
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The video of their daughter being tripped was shared multiple times across different social media platforms by users who were decrying the actions of the other girls in the video. A change.org petition calling for justice got more than 69,000 signatures. And someone at the school posted messages around the campus calling for stricter punishment for the two girls who tripped the victim.
Citing privacy laws, the district would not release information about what punishment the other students received. A Daytona Beach police spokesman said the girls face two misdemeanor charges each of simple battery and cyberbullying — but the Kings said that’s only after they pushed the school to further investigate what happened, and asked to speak to the school resource officer.
"That’s the shocking thing," said Katie Kelly, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida who is representing the King family. "How did the entire world know what the right thing was, except for the administration in Volusia County?"
Administrators at Seabreeze High School and the Volusia County school district would not comment on the specific situation, and the parents of the two other students involved in the video declined to speak to The News-Journal for this story. Additionally, the Daytona Beach Police Department said the charging affidavit or incident report relating to the incident could not be released, despite multiple requests from The News-Journal.
But the Kings laid out a sequence of events that spotlight gaps in a discipline system that leaves much up to administrator discretion.
Their daughter, who’s a freshman at Seabreeze, was tripped by two other girls and landed on her face on Thursday, Jan. 30. A video recording of the incident was posted to TikTok, a social media site for short humorous videos, and garnered national attention.
The trip is part of a trend: the "skull crusher" or "skull breaker" challenge. Search it on the app now, and you’ll find videos of adults counseling users not to participate in the dangerous trend.
The day after the incident, Adrianne King went to the school to meet with an administrator. She felt like the situation was downplayed. She said that’s when she realized the school hadn’t spoken to witnesses who were around or reviewed security camera footage from the area.
Over that weekend, the video went viral. Information circulated that their daughter had broken her nose (not true), that she had a disability (true), and that the two girls who were involved had received two days of in-school suspension (as far as the Kings know, that is true, but district officials would not confirm).
By the following Monday, Adrianne King said, "it’s like it was everywhere."
The Kings spoke to Seabreeze High School Principal Joseph Rawlings at the end of the first week in February, and they said he invited them to provide more information that the school should look into. The Kings were concerned about the scope of the investigation that took place.
A release from the Daytona Beach Police Department said the school resource officer was notified of the incident on Friday Jan. 31, but the Kings said they did not speak to an officer until Thursday, Feb. 6.
"I felt there was no empathy," Adrianne King said. "We got none of that from Seabreeze High School, nor from the district."
District spokeswoman Kelly Schulz said staff determines student discipline by following district Policy 208. It outlines different levels of infractions and punishment, but which punishments go to which students for which infractions are left up to administrators. There is annual training for new administrators and teachers on assignment to review the policies and ask questions.
Horseplay is a Level 1 or "minor" offense in the school district’s Code of Conduct. But battery and cyberbullying are Level 3, or "major" offenses. Administrators dealing with such offenses can choose from a list of possible responses, including assignment to alternative education programs, civil citations, community service in lieu of suspensions, recommended expulsion, in-school or out-of-school suspensions, restitution or Saturday school.
District employees told the Kings that after the school’s initial response, additional consequences were handed down to the students in the video.
A bigger problem
The Kings say the school’s response to the incident is emblematic of deep-rooted problems that exist in Volusia County Schools, some of which have been highlighted in recent coverage from The News-Journal.
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Rodderick King said the outcome would have been different for his daughter if the other students involved in the video were black.
"We already know if they were African American students, they would’ve been put up for expulsion," he said. "When you’re dealing with an African American kid, they’re treated in a different way (in Volusia County)."
Compared to their white peers, black students in Volusia County are disproportionately suspended from school, are less likely to pass standardized exams or graduate from high school. And the school district is still the subject of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice about alleged discrimination of students with autism.
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Community organizations have been pushing for changes that would prevent disparities like the one the Kings felt their family is dealing with.
FAITH, a group of religious organizations that push for social justice, called on the district to reduce its number of suspensions overall by 50% in the next year, and is particularly concerned about disproportionate punishments for black students who break the rules. They are urging the school district to implement restorative practices — a method to de-escalate situations without having to turn to discipline — in all schools. And they want discipline procedures to leave less up to interpretation.
"We want a policy that is streamlined, the same across the board, so the discretion is not left to the individual," said Nancy Witt, a FAITH volunteer who researches juvenile issues. "If not, if it’s left up to the discretion of a principal or an individual, then we can’t be certain that we have equality and that everybody is treated the same, and that we don’t get into racial differences or economic disparities."
Cynthia Slater, president of the Daytona Beach NAACP, agreed.
"They failed that kid," she said, adding that she’s heard from families with similar concerns. "We have to level the playing field when it comes to suspensions and expulsions, when it comes to how minorities are punished versus non-African Americans."
Will anything change?
When Superintendent Scott Fritz began working in the district in December, he said inequity in the district is something he’d be working to correct.
He was not available for an interview before the time of publication to discuss the district’s discipline practices and if any moves have been made to adjust them. District spokeswoman Schulz said the district is in the process of creating some "new procedures" regarding discipline that will be rolled out next week. She was unable to provide details about what is changing.
Additionally, Rodderick King said he and Fritz discussed disparities in discipline that he’s noticed during his tenure with the school district. He asked for the superintendent to put together a working group of staff members who could share instances of discrimination they had witnessed. He said Fritz agreed to do that.
After meeting with the superintendent, Rodderick King said he felt like Fritz understood the problem — but it was too late to protect his daughter from what she’s gone through.
"We aren’t trying to send these kids to Rikers Island or something like that," Rodderick King said. "We just want them to know there are consequences for their actions. We’re not letting this go."