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An 18-year-old student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, who was attacked in a classroom by a school resource officer, has been charged with “disturbing schools,” a crime punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.
And another student, Niya Kenny, 18, who recorded one of the viral videos, was also charged in the incident, saying she was trying to stand up for her classmate.
Now, both girls are on the road to getting criminal records in what Rashad Robinson, executive director of online civil rights group ColorOfChange.org, calls the “perfect example of the school-to-prison pipeline that thwarts the education of Black children and criminalizes them unnecessarily.”
Color Of Change started an online petition that called for the firing of the officer, Ben Fields, a senior deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and a school resource officer. So far, the petition has collected over 50,000 signatures, and Sheriff Leon Lott announced Wednesday at a noon press conference that Fields has indeed been fired.
Many have taken to social media to express their concern over police officers in school buildings.
The FBI is also investigating the incident.
“Police are standing in for educators when it comes to disciplinary action and our schools are turning into jails and prisons,” Robinson told NewsOne, echoing concerns that school safety and discipline are blended together.
Since the 1990s when parents and school officials began demanding “zero tolerance” policies in response to shootings, drugs, and gang activity, Robinson says the number of police in schools has risen dramatically.
And the blowback has disproportionately affected Black students, who are needlessly arrested and abused for acting like teenagers, he said.
Here are the raw numbers: Black students represented about 16 percent of the student population in the U.S., but accounted for 27 percent of all student referrals to law enforcement, and 31 percent of school-related arrests during the 2011-12 school year, according to the most recent federal report from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (pdf).
“We know that increased police presence in schools leads to a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests and an increase in students, particularly students of color, being assaulted,” Thena Robinson-Mock, Advancement Project’s Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Campaign Project Director, said in a statement to NewsOne.
She cited several examples, including the attack earlier this year on 17-year-old Brittany Overstreet in Tampa, Fla. Overstreet was body-slammed and knocked unconscious by a school resource officer, while in Baltimore earlier this year, a middle school student required ten stitches after she was assaulted by a school resource officer.
“These incidents make clear that police officers are not adequately trained to work with young people,” Robinson-Mock said. “Schools are a place for learning. It shouldn’t be a place where our children are beaten, assaulted, and introduced to the criminal justice system.”
We hope prosecutors in Columbia, South Carolina are listening to Robinson and Robinson-Mock, especially since Sheriff Lott stated at the news conference that he would not drop charges against the teen “because she disrupted class.” That kind of thinking smacks of the kind of over-disciplinary action we are fighting against.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty