A group of Spring Valley High School students walked out of class Friday morning, peacefully protesting the firing of school-resource officer Ben Fields.
Fields, a Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputy, was fired Wednesday after video surfaced of him forcibly removing a Spring Valley student from a classroom Monday.
“They said, ‘Bring back Fields.’ Everybody was saying that,” Spring Valley senior Ty’Juan Fulton, 18, said of the former deputy.
Plans for Friday’s demonstration were hatched on social media and by word of mouth, said Fulton, a football player.
Fields also was a coach for the Spring Valley football team.
A racially diverse group of about 100 students gathered in Spring Valley’s atrium about 10 a.m. Friday to express their opinions about Fields’ firing, which followed Sheriff Leon Lott’s condemnation of the deputy’s actions.
The protest was “an orderly student-led activity,” Spring Valley principal Jeff Temoney said in an email. “Our students and our staff were safe.
“I addressed the students to let them know that we understood their need to make their voices heard,” Temoney said. “Then, I reminded them that Spring Valley High is all about the business of teaching and learning, so it’s time to go back to class.”
The protest lasted about 10 minutes. But it brought more national attention to the high school, as Richland 2 school district leaders await the outcome of a civil-rights investigation into Monday’s incident.
Fields is white, and the student he removed from the class and arrested is African-American.
An advocacy group for black parents said Friday it plans to continue to pressure the district to improve its policies dealing with how school-resource officers interact with students.
Speaking in Tennessee, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also mentioned the civil-rights investigation Friday.
“(T)his week, we've been forced to again confront how far we still have left to go in the struggle for true equality,” Duncan said, adding, “If we want to maintain the trust of parents and communities in our schools, we must start by treating our children with respect and human dignity.”
However, for some Spring Valley High seniors on break for lunch Friday, the incident has led to more questions as they expressed concern for the former deputy, who they called “Coach Fields.”
DeJuan Lino, 18, said Friday that he wanted to show his support for Fields, hopeful the fired deputy would be able to get another job soon.
Fulton called Fields a “nice guy,” terming Monday’s incident a “misunderstanding.”
“He didn’t have to take it that far, but (the student) should have listened at the same time,” when she was asked to leave the classroom, he said.
Several videos of the walkout surfaced on Twitter shortly after the protest, using hashtags of “#bringbackfields” and “#bringfieldsback,” which some students had written in marker on their shirts.