DALLAS – School officials said Wednesday that an Athens eighth-grader lied when she claimed a mob of angry students assaulted her for making a poster that read, "If you love our nation, stop illegal immigration."
Surveillance cameras at Athens Middle School show Melanie Bowers, 13, purposefully making scratch marks on her face and arms in a hallway after a classmate took her poster in a "snatch-and-grab" style, Athens school Superintendent Fred Hayes said.
Bowers had told administrators she was clawed and hit after about 20 students, livid over the poster message she chose for a class project, swarmed around her and wrested the sign away.
What Hayes had earlier said was a scuffle partly borne from a heated national debate over immigration now appeared to be mostly horseplay, he said.
"The real error in this whole thing lies in the young lady telling lies," Hayes said.
Hayes said the school is pursuing misdemeanor criminal charges against the girl for making a false report.
The girl's parents apologized for their daughter in a written statement provided by school officials. They did not immediately return requests for comment.
The alleged scuffle led to the suspension of three Hispanic students. Hayes said on Tuesday that witnesses reported seeing the three make physical contact with their white classmate.
The students returned to class Wednesday, but Hayes said their punishment remained appropriate because they still were involved in taking the poster.
Hayes said one snatched the sign and the others encouraged the plot, although Bowers was never hurt.
Hayes said he apologized to the parents of the suspended students.
"Those students were cast in a negative light," he said.
J.R. Bowers, the girl's father, wrote in the statement provided by school officials that he agreed that charges will need to be filed against his daughter.
"I see that my daughter was not assaulted and put the marks on her body," Shera Bowers, the girl's mother, wrote.
News of the alleged attack over an anti-immigration poster — and the suspension of the three Hispanic students — touched off a flurry of comments on the Internet and to the Athens school district.
Hayes had said that the district received messages from people well outside Athens, a city of 12,000 about 70 miles south of Dallas. He had said that "some of these people are irrational in some of the e-mails that they've been sending me about these young people."
On Tuesday, Hayes said he was not surprised by the alleged scuffle because of the passions stirred by the immigration debate. He also criticized the class project as being inappropriate for middle school students.
Hayes said the school district would consider placing Bowers in an alternative school.
J.R. Bowers, who had agreed that the class project was too advanced for eighth-graders, had said Tuesday that he was holding his daughter out of class for the rest of the week.