You may have seen the very disturbing recent story of the violent arrest of a high school girl by a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The updated story - including the firing of SRO Ben Fields - as reported by NBC News can be found here. A teacher requested help from Officer Fields because a student would not stop using her cell phone. She would not leave the classroom at the officer's request, which led to him forcibly arresting her for something the State of South Carolina refers to as "disturbing schools." We want to make sure that this story doesn't end with the firing of this officer or charging him with a crime or civil rights violation. These responses do not teach any new practices. We need your help to urge Dr. Debbie Hamm, School Superintendent in Columbia, and Principal of Spring Valley High School, Jeff Temoney, to turn this very unfortunate event into a learning opportunity. Use the link to send an email to Dr. Hamm an Mr. Temoney so that they, their teachers, and school resource officers can learn better, more humane, and effective ways of working with behaviorally challenging youth. Together we KAAN make a difference!
Please turn the arrest incident into a learning opportunity
Dear Superintendent Hamm and Principal Temoney,
I am writing as a follow up to the troubling news story regarding the high school student who was violently arrested by a school resource officer (SRO) at Spring Valley High School. I am very concerned about the manner in which this student was treated, and equally concerned about what her classmates were exposed to and learned in the process. I understand that the officer was asked to assist a teacher because the student was not complying with a request to stop using her cell phone. I regret that both the teacher and the SRO were not aware of alternative, nonviolent, non-confrontational ways to handle the situation.
Your school system isn't alone in its improper handling of this situation: mechanical restraint procedures (such as handcuffing/arrest), physical restraint, and locked door seclusion) are used over 267,000 times a year in American public schools, almost always as an act of desperation in reaction to highly predictable behaviors and problems. And in almost all instances, these procedures are unnecessary, especially if schools are familiar with alternative interventions that are non-punitive, non-adversarial, proactive, collaborative, skill-building, and relationship-enhancing. Yours just happens to be one of the school systems that made the news, presumably thanks to modern smart-phone technology.
The important thing is what happens from this point forward. Firing the SRO doesn't necessarily change anything. So I hope you'll take immediate action to ensure that all staff in your schools are trained to understand social, emotional, and behavioral challenges more accurately and to intervene in ways that are more compassionate and effective. Toward that end, I urge you and your staff to check out the vast array of free resources on the website of the non-profit Lives in the Balance (www.livesinthebalance.org). There you'll find a treasure trove of free resources, including streaming video and audio programming, that will help you and your strive to ensure that the episode that made the news is a is a thing of the past.
Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.