Justice Department officials are recommending several changes at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, nearly ten months after one of its school resource officers (SRO) was fired for his treatment of an uncooperative high school student.
The Office for Civil Rights on Wednesday reached a resolution agreement with the department to make changes in a program that places deputies in schools across the county that surrounds South Carolina’s capital. Wednesday’s agreement requires the sheriff’s department to undertake a comprehensive assessment and overhaul of its SRO program. That includes creating new policies to minimize school-based arrests and better training officers on de-escalation and “bias-free” policing.
“The Office for Civil Rights is committed to working with communities like Richland County to ensure that students’ civil rights are protected and school-based law enforcement responses are safe and fair,” Office of Justice Programs Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason said in a statement.
Richland County’s SRO program received national media attention after a cell phone video posted online in October showed an SRO at Spring Valley High School in Columbia violently pulling a resistant student from her desk and across the floor before tossing her towards the classroom door. However, the Justice Department said it had already selected the department five months earlier due to the county’s high juvenile arrest rates and school-based referrals to law enforcement. The agency has authority over the SRO program because Richland County relies on federal grants to run the program.
Under the agreement, the Justice Department will work with the sheriff’s department for the next three years to overhaul its SRO program. Among its objectives are cutting down on arrests made at school property for nonviolent discipline issues.
“School-based law enforcement strategies must include age-appropriate, nondiscriminatory responses to student misbehavior and should ensure that school personnel, not law enforcement, administer routine student discipline,” the resolution states.
Lott told The State newspaper he agreed with the recommendations.
The announcement of the resolution comes one day after South Carolina’s Board of Education voted to scale back the role of SROs in classrooms across the state. Under the proposed regulations, officers would not get involved in a class disruption unless a student’s actions become criminal and presents a “serious” safety threat. The board still needs a second vote on the proposal in October before submitting the plan to state legislators for their approval.