Patterson: 911 should have been called after attack on Bibb middle school student

Nearly a week after a Howard Middle School sixth-grader’s jaw was broken during an attack by another student at the school, Bibb County school officials said that 911 should have been called afterward.

Tanner Pate had left his science class for a restroom break May 1 when a sixth-grade boy from another class, who was already in the restroom, said, “I’m about to fight,” according to Tanner’s mom, Kim Pate.

“Tanner turned around to leave, and the boy grabbed him around the neck and strangled him,” she said. “Tanner turned blue and lost consciousness.”

The boy fell face first to the floor, cutting his chin and shattering his jaw.

While Tanner was down, the other student continued to kick Tanner in the face, which may have broken more bones, Pate said.

The school system said the attack was unprovoked and an isolated incident. The two boys don’t know each other well, although they were in the same Family and Consumer Science class this school year.

The Telegraph has asked for a copy of the campus police report, but because the attacker is 13 or younger and may not have a prior juvenile record, the school system would not release one.

After the attack, Tanner’s father, Mic, took him to the hospital after getting a call from the school. The boy had five stitches, lost teeth and his mouth was wired shut, Kim Pate said.

His parents are not sending him back to Howard Middle School. They say the school downplayed their son’s injuries, and that the school should have called an ambulance.

The attacker was taken to a youth detention center Friday and had a Juvenile Court hearing Monday. He is suspended from school pending a school system disciplinary hearing, Superintendent Sharon Patterson said Thursday during a news conference.

“What happened to this young student was unacceptable and shocking,” she said.

Teachers did respond quickly to the attack, a nurse was called in and both students’ parents were called, she said.

“Looking back at that situation, I do wish 911 had been called,” Patterson said.

Principal Matt Adams was not at Howard Middle School that day. He said he also would have called the emergency telephone number, but that his staff made a judgment call.

“Obviously it’s under investigation,” said David Gowan, Bibb’s director of risk management. “In general, we teach them to use judgment.”

Faculty members are given a 10-hour course in first aid, and if an injury can be treated with a first-aid kit, school workers generally don’t call 911.

But if an injury is more severe, such as a deep cut requiring stitches, employees are advised to go into a “code blue” mode, requiring a 911 call and meeting medical personnel at the door, he said.

Gowan said he will review the policy further this summer.

The Pates said the school system needs a better policy on how to handle such emergencies to avoid a similar episode in the future.

“I think they definitely need people to monitor those bathrooms,” she said.

Another mom, Melanie Hawthorne, said her son was attacked in a Howard Middle School bathroom last May in a similar, unprovoked incident by a different student.

“I pulled him out of school for that,” she said. “This is not the first time it happened.”

In 2008, the Bibb school system reported a total of 24 student battery incidents and nearly 3,000 instances of fighting, according to a state Student Discipline Report.

Letters about the incident were sent home to Howard Middle School parents Tuesday.

The lag in communication stemmed from first launching an investigation to gather facts, at a time when the system also was putting together a plan on how to react to potential swine flu cases, Patterson said.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.