A South Carolina task force is recommending that school resource officers (SRO) be required to receive additional training and only be used in criminal-related incidents rather than minor class disruptions.
State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman revealed Tuesday morning the findings of the Safe Schools Taskforce. The taskforce was formed in November after the controversial removal of a student by an SRO at Spring Valley High School in Columbia got nationwide attention.
“We have made a strong set of recommendations that we feel if implemented will strengthen and clarify the roles of the teacher, the principal and the school resource officer in the school,” Spearman said.
Over the last four months the group of educators, parents and law enforcement have examined current school policies, educator involvement and law enforcement training criteria. Spearman outlined recommendations that she said would focus on making incidents like the one at Spring Valley less likely to occur.
“First we found we really needed to adopt the federal definition of a school resource officer, we found that we needed to offer uniform training requirements and additional access to training for law enforcement to become school resources officers,” she said.
Currently the definition of an SRO in state law treats the officer as an advisor or teacher. The task force suggests changing the definition so that resource officers would only be responsible for responding to criminal behavior in connection with a school activity or sponsored event. Included in the recommendations were that the law enforcement officer only be called in situations where a student was accused of assault, major vandalism, possessing a weapon or other severe criminal acts. The task force recommended that less serious disruptions be handled by the teacher or school administrators.
Spearman said, if students misbehave in a non-criminal manner, the incident should be primarily handled in a way that will not create a lifelong problem for the child by having a police record.
“I think as we got more and more comfortable, maybe there were times we were asking school resource officers to do roles that they really weren’t intended to do,” she said “We want them to serve as a good resource officer, to be a good role model and mentor to the students and nothing beyond that.”
In the case of Spring Valley, an SRO and Richland County deputy Ben Fields responded to calls from a classroom over a student refusing to follow her teacher’s orders. After the student refused to leave the room, Fields tried to pry her out of the chair. Cell phone video posted by other students showed Fields yank the student out of her chair, causing the desk to flip over, then toss her across the floor.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said though he doubts these new recommendations would have affected the Spring Valley SRO’s decisions, he is glad that it gave law enforcement an opportunity to take a closer look at some their regulations and policies.
“That particular officer had been through all of the training so I don’t think, training had anything to do with it, and it was just a bad decision that the officer made that created the situation,” said Lott. “But again a lot of good things have come from it. We haven’t looked at the program in many years and that caused us to look at it, which produced these good results.”
A few of the recommendations will have to be approved by the state Board of Education, while others must be changed by the state legislature.
Kimberly Washington filed this report