It was the video that had the entire nation talking last month: a Richland County sheriff’s deputy forcibly removing a student from her desk while her classmates – two of whom recorded the incident on their cellphones – watched.
In York County, school district and law enforcement officials watched the video too, and then began discussing how a similar incident would be handled here.
“Everyone across the country that’s in a school district should have looked at that incident and said, ‘All right, if that happened to us, how could we have prevented it?’ ” said Kevin Wren, director of safety, security and environmental management for Rock Hill Schools. “For us, it’s looking at classroom management: What’s the information they’re getting? How is it being rolled out? What training are administrators getting?”
Lt. Tim Ayers, who supervises resource officers in the Rock Hill Police Department, said, “the same scenario at Spring Valley has happened several times in Rock Hill schools – except for the actions of the officer,” he said. “You remove the audience. That’s what those kids are looking for. You have a school administrator and an officer stay in the room; the rest of the crowd leaves and goes to another room.”
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Ayers says the student usually complies with the officer once the rest of the class has left the room, and without physical force. He said two officers are preferred if a student must be forcibly removed
Still, school resource officers in the Rock Hill school district will undergo training with the Crisis Prevention Institute, Wren said.
Crisis Prevention Institute, based in Milwaukee, Wis., teaches nonviolent crisis intervention techniques to deal with disruptive and assaultive behavior.
The January training, which was scheduled before the Spring Valley incident, will focus on verbal de-escalation techniques and include instruction on how adolescents and special-needs students think.
‘Remove the audience’
After the Spring Valley video, Clover School District officialsreviewedtheir policies on how to remove a non-compliant student, said Clover High School principal Rod Ruth. Many teachers in the district have already received training from the Crisis Prevention Institute.
If a student is non-compliant, Ruth said, the teacher will typically summon an administrator. If the studentdoesn’t comply with the administrator, a resource officer will be called.
“In a case where a student is not compliant and not listening to authority,” Ruth said, “we would clear the classroom in order for it to de-escalate.”
Sgt. Wayne Richardson supervises the six resource officers of the York County Sheriff’s Office. He recalled removing a student who refused to leave a classroom and was banging his head on the desk. The middle school student was 5-foot-10 and weighed more than 200 pounds. Richardson said he used little physical force to get the boy out.
“I never had to pull, jerk or push,” he said. “I was just using pressure points.”
‘Not everything’s a law enforcement issue’
The Spring Valley incident prompted discussion about the role of resource officers in schools, specifically in discipline matters.
Ayers said officers are in constant communicating with teachers and administrators. Action by a resource officer is determine on a case-by-case basis.
“Not everything’s a law enforcement issue,” he said. “We need to look at the totality of circumstances and make a determination.”
Discipline issues at York School District 1 schools always start as a school decision before determining if law enforcement should be involved, said spokesman Tim Cooper.
“Our administrators at our high school had a conversation with our school resource officer at the high school to say, ‘Let’s talk through that scenario,’ ” Cooper said. “What would our actions be? Who steps in where? How are we going to de-escalate that situation so it doesn’t go the direction that one did? What do we need to do to be by our students, our faculty and staff?”
‘There’s no cut-and-dry’
The student removed from the Spring Valley classroom, and a classmate, were each charged with disturbing schools. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who later fired the officer, criticized the state statute, which makes it unlawful to “interfere with or to disturb” the students or teachers of a school, to “act in an obnoxious manner” or for a person to enter school grounds without permission from an administrator.
“It’s very gray. There’s no cut-and-dry,” Ayers said. “Anything a child does can be considered disturbing schools. But if we did that, the juvenile court would be out the door and to the street with disturbing schools charges.”
Wren said the first part of the statute is too broad, and that more specific charges such as disorderly conduct or assault and battery could be applied to many of the arrests made under the statute.
The second part, he said, is a safety issue, and schools need to be able to arrest someone on school grounds without permission, which the state trespassing statute doesn’t allow.
“You have to warn them first,” he said.
Richardson said a non-compliant student will automatically be charged with disturbing schools if the classroom must be cleared to remove the student.
“We instruct our guys, ‘Look, if it’s not a true disturbing schools, we’re not going to charge them,’” he said. “We’re going to be as fair as possible all the way through. We try not to use disturbing schools as a catch-all.”
Richardson said their officers recognize that they are not disciplinarians.
“They do not cross that line,” he said. “If there’s a discipline problem, we may intervene and say, ‘Hold it right there,’ and get an administrator.”
Factors considered when hiring a resource officer
An officer working in schools must undergo two weeks of training at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
A Rock Hill Police officer interested in becoming a resource officer must have a history and enthusiasm of working with children, Ayers said.
“He’s not just there as the enforcer; they’re there to be that mentor, that educator,” he said. “We’ve had 3-year-olds sitting in a room here, asking, ‘Do y’all really shoot unarmed people?’ We’re having to break that mold, and those school resource officers are the best thing in the world for that.”
Richardson said the sheriff’s office considers an officer’s involvement in schools outside of work.
“Do they go by the schools and do they participate in the schools without being a school resource officer?” he said. “Do they visit schools on a regular basis? What’s their motive for trying to be a school resource officer?”
Several years ago while developing emergency plans, Cooper said York school district officials invited York police officers to visit the schools “anytime they wish.”
“We encourage them to check into the front buildings and walk around the halls,” he said, “so if there was indeed a major emergency, they would already know the layout.”
While the Spring Valley was “unfortunate,” Cooper said, “the upside is, it got a lot of school districts talking about what’s within their bounds and law enforcement.”
Fort Mill School District declined an interview for this story.