In Response to South Carolina: Will a Wake Student be Next?

Early this week, a video surfaced of a young black student being assaulted by School Resource Officer (SRO) Ben Fields in Columbia, South Carolina. The video clearly showed that SROs and law enforcement should not handle routine school discipline issues. The young woman was hurled to the ground and dragged violently by the officer in front of her peers, causing physical and psychological harm to the victim and witnesses.

Similar to Officer Ben Fields, many school resource officers in Wake County Public Schools System (WCPSS) are not trained in child or adolescent development, therefore ill-equipped to effectively handle youth discipline matters.

WCPSS officers also have a history of excessive force toward black students. In 2013, six Enloe High School students were arrested after a water balloon fight, one of the students suffering a concussion at the hands of an officer. Wake SROs have the power to override the recommendations of principals. In 2014, a student at Southeast High School was jailed for 21 days after a school bus fight even though the principal wanted to levy an out-of-school suspension. In Wake County, officers are allowed to make the final decision, going over the heads of professionals with years of training in education and child development. In a state like North Carolina, where 16 and 17-year-olds can be prosecuted as adults and sent to adult prison for any kind of offense, this gives them the power to do permanent and long-term harm to a child’s future.

Why does Wake County allow SROs more decision-making power over students lives in the classrooms than parents, counselors, teachers, and principals? Who will protect students from over-reactions and violence from SROs who abuse their position of power?

Studies across the country and in Wake County show that school-based referrals into the criminal justice system are disproportionately youth of color, LGBTQ youth, and youth with disabilities. SROs are supposed to keep students safe, but each year we hear more troubling incidents that call into question their very presence, of incidents where they are the instigators of violence, which is why we call for counselors, not cops.

The NC Coalition for Education Justice joins Dignity in Schools Campaign to call on Spring Valley High School and districts across the country to use positive interventions instead of suspensions, expulsions or arrests and to shift funding from school police to counselors and positive data-driven discipline interventions. The DSC Model Code on Education and Dignity provides these and other alternatives that promote positive school climates.
We don’t want the students and families of WCPSS to be the next victims so we demand:
-removal of all school resource officers in Wake County who are not trained in child and adolescent development,
-training for students, teachers and administration in implicit bias and positive interventions such as restorative/transformative justice,
-a parent and student-led review board to oversee the academic and discipline related treatment of students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.

School resource officers are only one part of the larger issue of school push-out. North Carolina ranks 8th in suspension rates in the country. The state spends $8,160 annually on education per student but $159,750 on incarcerated youth. North Carolina is also the only state arresting 16 and 17 year olds and charging them as adults for both misdemeanors and felony charges. All of these factors contribute to the school-to-prison-pipeline.

This Saturday, October 31st, students, parents, and community organizers will lead the 4th annual march to end the school-to-prison pipeline, beginning at Washington GT Elementary School and ending at Central Prison. This march brings attention to the policies and actions that push students out of classrooms into prisons. There will be youth and parent speakers, a noise demo outside of Central Prison, and vibrant rallies with chants, songs, and drums.