Candidates for the Richland 2 School Board expressed support Tuesday for keeping law enforcement out of discipline of student misbehavior.
Those views came during a candidate forum a year after former deputy Ben Fields flipped a noncompliant Spring Valley High School student in her chair and dragged her across the room, an incident that attracted national attention.
All nine of 12 candidates in attendance applauded efforts to develop new rules that will keep in-school police officers from being called to handle students who disrupt classes in nonviolent ways.
“We can no longer criminalize student behavior,” Jamie Shadd told a gathering of 50 people at a session sponsored by the Richland 2 Black Parents Association at Love Fellowship Tabernacle in the Dentsville area.
“Poor decisions were made all around,” candidate Lindsay Agostini added, saying that school personnel should handle misconduct without letting it mushroom into confrontation.
Many guidelines on police officers in school are “in considerable ambiguity” that needs to be clarified, candidate Keith Powell said.
County deputies are undergoing training to upgrade their skills with the goal of reducing the use of force on students. State officials, meanwhile, are pushing to develop clear standards on what’s expected of law enforcement.
The incident involving a white deputy dealing harshly with an African-American student also touched off a national conversation on race that still reverberates in Richland 2, some candidates said.
Richland 2 needs to improve minority hiring of teachers so students encounter “more diversity as the world changes,” candidate Evangelina Hemphill said.
The group split over whether Richland 2 should always conduct a national search for its leaders instead of going in-house as it did recently with the selection of superintendent-elect Baron Davis.
“It’s important to groom our leaders from within,” Kay Harvey said. Bill McCracken said while a search is preferable, the choice of Davis is “a good decision” because of his experience locally.
The group also split over reviving the idea of electing the seven school board members who oversee schools with 27,000 students – the largest enrollment in the Columbia area – by political districts instead of districtwide.
Supporters say moving away from at-large elections would ensure African-Americans and other minorities have a better chance of success in getting attention paid to their views.
But “the downside is worse than the benefits” because it encourages candidates with more limited views, candidate A.J. Bracy said.
Other African-American candidates called the idea quixotic. “That’s not going to happen,” candidate John Mobley predicted. “The Confederate flag has been over District 2 for a quite a long time.”
Many of the candidates promised to press for steady academic improvements to make sure students are ready for college or jobs after graduation.
“I’m an advocate for children at their best,” Shelley Williams said.
Candidates at the forum were limited to one-minute answers.
Incumbent Monica Elkins-Johnson did not appear since she was at a school board meeting. Challengers Henry Counts and Milton Wright also were absent.
The top three vote-getters in the nonpartisan contest on the Nov. 8 ballot will win posts, with two current board members seeking other elected positions.