By now, you have probably heard about the incident, in Columbia, South Carolina, between a Spring Valley High School female student and school resource officer, Ben Fields. In a viral video, Fields can be seen putting the young lady in a headlock, flipping her from her desk, and throwing her across the room. According to NBC News, Fields was fired today, Wednesday, October 28, 2015, by Sheriff Leon Lott of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Lott deemed Fields’s actions “excessive,” but also cautioned that the student’s actions are what led to the interaction between she and Fields.
Columbia news station WLTX posted an interview with a student who used his phone to record Fields as he spoke to the young girl before putting her in a choke hold. In the interview, attached to this article, Tony Robinson Jr. describes the alleged infractions of the student and the shocking discipline that followed. According to Robinson, Jr., the student’s infractions were:
- briefly having her cell phone out,
- refusing to turn the phone over to the teacher, Robert Long,
- and refusing to leave the classroom after being instructed by Mr. Long and an administrator.
Richland County Schools has a policy in place that defines when and how a student may use an “electronic communication device” as outlined in their “Back-2-School Handbook.” Page 33 of the handbook establishes the rights to possession of an “ECD” as follows: “Possession of an electronic communication device (ECD) by a student is a privilege that may be forfeited by any student who fails to abide by the terms and provisions of this policy, or otherwise engages in misuse of this privilege.”
According to page 34 of the handbook:
High school students may use ECDs such as cellular phones, electronic pagers or any other communications devices before and after school, during their lunch break, within “free zones” (as determined by the principal) and as deemed appropriate by the teacher and approved by the principal for educational and/or instructional purposes only. Any other use of wireless communications is considered misuse and violations may result in disciplinary action.
Consequences • First offense – warning/confiscate device and return to student at the end of the school day • Second offense – confiscate device/return to parent/legal guardian • Third offense – confiscate device/return device to parent/legal guardian and privilege to have device is revoked for the remainder of the school year • Fourth offense – confiscate device/return at the end of the school year Violation of this policy shall result in discipline as outlined in the district’s code of conduct (Policy JICDA/ JICDA-R).
Richland County has different levels of discipline for each infraction, as outlined in their student handbook. Disobedience results in six hours of detention or possibly suspension, disrespect to faculty or staff is levied one to five days suspension, and verbal confrontation could result in one to three days suspension or possible arrest. There is no specific mention of having resource officers extract students from classrooms. However, resource officers are mentioned at least five times in Richland County’s back to school handbook.
In the video, the young lady never left her seat. According to a student who tweeted about the incident, the young lady was quiet, even during the interactions with their Long and Fields, and no one knew why she was asked to leave their classroom. You may read his tweets here.
Some people saw the young lady’s refusal to leave the classroom as disrespect worthy of harsh punishment. A few went so far as to say she, not Fields, was responsible for any harm that came to her via being thrown around the classroom. “What was he supposed to do?” many asked.
Undisciplined adults cannot discipline children
Nothing anyone has shown, or said, justifies the young lady at issue being manhandled and thrown around like trash. There is a serious problem when persons in position of authority deem it necessary to become physically violent when they merely feel disobeyed or disrespected. It shows a lack of self-restraint and discipline on their parts.
When disciplining a young person, an adult must take several things into consideration including the adult’s own temperament at the time of the disciplinary action, the child’s background, age, type of infraction and the appropriate punishment. The National Association of School Psychologists offers helpful information about appropriate discipline on their website. One thing frowned upon by NASP is zero tolerance policies.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of schools apply a zero tolerance approach to behaviors that do not necessarily threaten the safety or welfare of others. Furthermore, harsh consequences are invoked automatically, irrespective of the severity of the misbehavior or the circumstance involved, and without consideration of the negative impact of these consequences on the welfare of the offending student or on the overall climate of the school.-NASP website
It seems that this very course of action took place at Spring Valley High School on that fateful Monday morning. At no point, has anyone accused the young lady at issue of posing a threat to anyone in her class or at her school, faculty and staff included. What she is accused of is essentially nonconformity. She, allegedly did not put her phone away quickly enough, refused to release it to her teacher, and did not want to leave her classroom.
This child’s background is important to this discussion. According to her attorney, Todd Rutherford, she has recently become orphaned due to the deaths of her mother and grandmother this year. She is currently in foster care and was new to the school. According to student Niya Kenny, the young lady “had no one.” Reports have stated that the young lady suffered injuries to her back, face, and neck, and that she is currently wearing a cast on her arm.
Had a parent physically assaulted a 16-year-old student the presence of the teacher and administrator, as mandatory reporters of abuse, they more than likely would have had to report the parent to child protective services. So why is it okay for a resource officer to place a child in a choke hold, flip her out of her desk, and then throw her across the room?
A resource officer is supposed to provide peace and security to students at the school where he or she is employed. There is seriously something wrong when a person whom is supposed to be a safe haven acts more like a bully. Richland County Schools has policies in place to deal with perceived disciplinary issues, none of them involve a 300+ pound, muscular man tossing a young lady like a rag doll.
Although Fields has received commendations for his work with students, he has also earned the moniker, “Officer Slam,” and faced at least three lawsuits for using excessive force with an army veteran and his wife, and violating the civil rights of students. Fields had several alternatives available to him when dealing with a disobedient student, who was non-threatening.
Fields could have refused to even come to the classroom and allowed the teacher and administrator to set forth the disciplinary action. Fields could have called the student into the hallway to discuss her side of what was occurring and diffused the situation. Fields could have used an old maneuver many teachers have used of sliding the student into the hallway by grabbing the desk instead of the student. Fields had several options available to him, yet he chose to flip the young student out of the desk while holding her in a choke hold and then throwing her across the room to the floor. It makes no sense.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Advocates who educate young people, through programs like “Safe Dates,” often empower youth to maintain the autonomy of their bodies and respect the autonomy of other’s bodies. They teach these young people that verbal insults and confrontations at no time give a person license to physically assault you, or you them. Nor does verbal defiance subject you to physical abuse.
Authority figures, who are charged to maintain the safety and well-being of students, should at least model behavior that leads to correction, stability, and deescalation of conflict. At the most, they should show some discipline and maintain the dignity of their students and themselves when resolving conflict.
The adults in this situation showed a lack of common decency, a lack of self-restraint and a lack of common sense. No adult in the room intervened when Fields physically attacked this young lady. The student who stood up in her defense, Niya Kenny, was arrested for daring to challenge the undisciplined officer’s actions.
Disciplining children is a very delicate and necessary undertaking. However, the line between discipline and abuse is distinct. If you cannot control yourself, be mindful of the child’s physical and mental well-being, and discipline in a way that promotes the positive growth and development of a child, you do not need to undertake the challenge of discipline.
There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. It is wrong to violently assault a child, simply because the child says, “No,” or does not follow instructions. A good educator commands his or her classroom. A good educator cares about the students when they come to the room and as they leave. A good educator knows the difference between a non-compliant student and a violent suspect.
Treating children/teens like criminals in a school setting is more than ridiculous, and should be criminal. This young lady is not accused of having a weapon, of fighting, or even levying threats, yet she was slammed to the floor like a suspect in a violent attack. If you can convince yourself that this is okay, imagine if it were your child. If you still have no issue with what occurred, please visit your local psychologist or neurologist and have your head examined.