03/30/07 — Fight leads to closing of Grantham after-school program

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Fight leads to closing of Grantham after-school program

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 30, 2007 1:49 PM

A 4-H after-school program at Grantham School has been canceled as the result of an incident earlier this week where a staff member allegedly bit a family member in the face during an altercation.

Tamika S. Bryant, 31, of Peachtree Street, was charged Wednesday on one count of simple assault stemming from the Monday afternoon incident. She was released on a written promise.

A report of the incident was not on file at the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. The 14-year-old girl, who is also Ms. Bryant's niece, told her mother, who then went to the Magistrate's Office to seek an arrest warrant.

The student's mother recounted the events that led up to the alleged scuffle before Magistrate Allen Jones Tuesday.

Jones said, according to the mother's testimony, Ms. Bryant summoned the teen over to her. When the student walked away, Ms. Bryant allegedly grabbed her, choked her, pulled her hair and bit her on her left jaw.

Choke marks were still visible around the child's neck and her neck and jaw were swollen from the incident, Jones said. He said the mother said she planned to seek medical treatment for the child.

Principal Lisa Tart and another individual were reportedly close by when the incident occurred, Jones said the mother testified.

Other students also were in the classroom at the time, sources said.

Jones issued a warrant for Ms. Bryant, a site assistant with the 4-H after-school program. Ms. Bryant reportedly tutored students and provided enrichment activities during the program.

She was fired after the alleged incident, officials said.

County Extension Director Howard Scott confirmed Ms. Bryant was no longer employed with the program.

Citing a personnel issue, Scott declined to comment on the specifics of the case. However, he stated he was upset about the incident.

"I'm extremely troubled that anything happened," he said. "It does not represent what our middle school after-school program is trying to do for students."

Scott explained that there are two programs currently offered at Grantham School, one for K-5 that is fee-based and doing very well in its support from the community. The middle school program, targeting free and reduced lunch students, was funded through a grant and was only offered for one year.

While he confirmed this morning that the middle school program had been disbanded, he said a field trip planned over the Easter break will still take place.

Scott said he regretted the decision had to be made to cancel the program.

"We're just extremely sorry the incident happened. We have taken steps where hopefully nothing like this will be conducted again. The staff we hire goes through training ... this was just something that we did not see coming or happening," he said, terming it a "family matter."

Scott said he did not want the public to lose faith in the 4-H after-school program, which is also offered at Goldsboro Intermediate, Dillard Middle, Mount Olive Middle and Brodgen Middle schools.

"There's some good things happening at Grantham," he said. "This reflects extremely badly on Grantham."

Ms. Bryant agreed and said she wished this was not the case.

"It happened at a 4-H program, but 4-H is not responsible for what happened," Ms. Bryant said.

In fact, Ms. Bryant's version of the story greatly differed from what the student told her mother.

"Basically, it was a misunderstanding," she said. "She got mad about something that was said. She hit me and I hit her back to defend myself. She bit me and I bit her back."

During the confrontation, Ms. Bryant also threw a cell phone that she was holding, which she said mistakenly struck a student who was trying to break up the fight.

"I think it was a misunderstanding. I'm sorry that it happened, but for her to say all of this stuff about me is unnecessary," she said.

Ms. Bryant is now unemployed and looking to put the whole incident behind her. She hopes to be cleared of the charge.

The program is not run by the school system, it only leases the building, but the students always come first, officials said.

"Wayne County Public Schools takes the safety of our students very seriously, during school or after," said Ken Derksen, public information officer. "Like many community groups who lease our school buildings for programs, we expect their staff to also make safety top priority for anyone who participates."

Derksen said the school system values the 4-H program and all that it does to improve the quality of the students' education.

"We have talked with the 4-H leaders about what happened, discussed what policies 4-H has in place during its programs and expressed our deep concern over this incident," he said. "We have been assured that this was an isolated incident that involved two family members, and it is not a reflection of the 4-H program."

This is the second reported incident involving an altercation at the 4-H after-school program at Grantham School in recent months.

On Nov. 14, sheriff's deputies responded to the school to answer a call regarding a fight that broke out between four students.

No students were reportedly arrested in the incident.

During the uproar, one student's grandmother, Della Newsome, 56, of Weaver Road, allegedly shoved a school bus driver, Tyrenna Warren Murphy, 34. Ms. Newsome was charged with assault, but was later cleared.