South Carolina education officials have taken the first steps towards regulations that would reduce the role of police officers in classroom discipline.
Under the changes the state Board of Education gave initial approval Tuesday, school resource officers (SROs) would not get involved in a class disruption unless a student’s actions become criminal and presents a “serious” safety threat. The board would need to hold another vote following a chance for public feedback at its October meeting. State legislators still need to give their approval, as well.
“The educators there should be handling the lesser offenses, the discipline issues,” State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman told South Carolina Radio Network after the vote. “If it’s an offense that moves to the level of a criminal activity, that’s when a resource officer should intervene. And only at that time.”
The vote comes ten months after a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School was called to a classroom in response to an uncooperative student who refused a teacher’s orders to leave for her cell phone use. Another student’s cell phone video then showed that officer dragging the uncooperative student and desk across the floor before prying her loose and flinging her towards the door. She was later charged with disrupting class, as was a second student who then confronted the officer.
The officer was fired from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department a few days later after an internal investigation.
After the incident received national attention, Spearman created a special task force to examine South Carolina’s use of officers in the classroom. The group of educators, parents and law enforcement in March recommended increased training and a scaled-back use of SROs for minor disruptions that are not criminal.
Spearman hopes the new requirements would ease concerns that officers feel obligated to file “disturbing school” charges when they’re called to a classroom.
“We want students, if they misbehave, to be disciplined,” Spearman said. “But we don’t want them to be criminalized if it’s a lesser offense.”