by James A. Bacon

This story gives a whole new meaning — a literal meaning — to the phrase, “hair on fire.” According to WWBT/Gray News, a teenager at John Rolfe Middle School in Henrico County seta fellow student’s hair afire with a lighter. The boy is at VCU Medical Center suffering from second- and third-degree burns.

Here’s the TV station’s account of what happened:

His mother said she was told the school was on lockdown due to COVID-19 contact tracing, so her son’s math class was having lunch inside the classroom.

She says her son went to throw away his tray when another student approached him from behind with a lighter.

“That’s when the girl kind of flicked the lighter and lit his hair on fire,” the mother said.

The mother, who asked not to be identified, said what disturbed her most was the school’s downplaying of the incident and reluctance to press charges against the student. The principal sent the following statement to parents and students following the incident:

I’m calling to let you know about an incident that took place in your child’s science class today. A student was burned by a classmate who was playing with a lighter. The injured student was taken to the hospital and is receiving treatment. Here at school, we are reviewing the incident to ensure something like this does not happen again and taking appropriate disciplinary action as necessary. Thank you.

“You can’t just brush this under the rug and think that it’s going to just go away, it’s not,” the mother said. “My son is severely hurt. He’s suffering and it’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to him so y’all just need to be held accountable.”

The Henrico Fire Marshal’s Office did charge the teen Thursday with “unlawful wounding.”

Bacon’s bottom line:  If I were the boy’s parent, I’d be asking questions like these:

What was the offending teen doing with a fire lighter in school? Was it part of a science lab or did she bring it to school?

The principal initially described the incident as arising from the student “playing with a lighter”? Was the incident a careless accident or was it deliberate? What is the teachers’ version of the story?

What incentives might exist in Henrico County public schools to sweep incidents like these under the rug? Henrico’s disciplinary system has been modified to shut down the “school to prison pipeline.” To what extent are schools and principals rated on the the disciplinary statistics they file with the central office? To what degree, if any, are they suppressing reports of violence and declining to issue suspensions and other punishments when clearly appropriate?

There are superficial similarities here with the widely publicized case in Loudoun County, where school officials tried to suppress news that a student had raped two girls on school premises. The matter generated attention only after the father of one of the girls tried to protest at a school board meeting, was evicted for his troubles, and went viral on social media.

How many other incidents across Virginia have been downplayed? To what degree do official statistics reflect the reality of disorderly and violent behavior? Are some schools in meltdown mode?

Parents would be perfectly justified if their hair was on fire — metaphorically speaking. It will be most interesting to see how Henrico handles this incident. What kind of disciplinary action will be meted out to the offending student? If WWBT does a follow-up, I will report it.

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8 responses to “Schools Gone Wild — Henrico Edition”

  1. In Albemarle County, there has been 8 school threats so far resulting in lockdowns.

    They also

    Excerpt from NBC29 News…

    Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley says several factors play a role in how they prosecute each juvenile for each case.

    “We look at the character of the person who’s been charged. We look at a person’s background and circumstances, their family situation, whether they have any past criminal behavior is a very important consideration,” Hingeley said.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Oh boy. I suppose the education leaders in Henrico didn’t hear about the national story in Loudoun.

    “The mother, who asked not to be identified, said what disturbed her most was the school’s downplaying of the incident and reluctance to press charges against the student. ”

    Virginia’s public schools are better than the Molly Maids at sweeping this sort of activity out of sight. It needs to stop.

  3. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    This is a response I wore to an article from the New York Times regarding the uptake in disciplinary behavior of students. It will be posted on a blog for secondary principals.

    Don’t put everything on the principal, there are other factors, like lenient school board policies that tie principals hands.

    PS. This incident is sickening. I hope the student recovers both mentally and physically.

    1. James Kiser Avatar
      James Kiser

      you never recover from burns the burns are permanent especially third degree.

  4. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    The girl is a thug and should be executed for attempted murder.

  5. “The Henrico Fire Marshal’s Office did charge the teen Thursday with “unlawful wounding.””—– what the heck does that mean?

    What about a criminal charge? What does this arsonist do to kittens?

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      This does seem to be an odd path to charge someone. Perhaps there is a miscommunication between law enforcement and the school board. I know that was a big problem in the Loudoun sex assault case.

  6. Merchantseamen Avatar

    All this coddling comes from Obummer terms in office as far as admins go. ( Yeh I get it. It did not start with him) However the kids know right from wrong. Or should. Looking at it through another prism. It may have been an accident. Hair is like black powder and will burn fast. Plenty of youtube videos demonstrate that. Playing with fire. We all did it. If it was deliberate then criminal otherwise an accident. Punishment should fit it..

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