School Discipline Not a Police Matter

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This is not a post about police brutality or racial profiling despite the fact that the teenage girl at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina is black and the officer who roughly grabbed and tossed her out of her chair and onto the floor is white.

What I found incredible was that the officer was called in in the first place. The girl was not being loud, swearing, or threatening anyone in the classroom. She was committing what these days must be a common infraction: using her cell phone in class.

There were other ways to handle this situation, yet the teacher chose to escalate the situation by calling in first an administrator and then a police officer. The teacher could have quietly and privately asked the student to stop. He could have engaged her in the lesson by asking her a direct question. Asking her to leave the classroom was not the best idea. When she refused, he felt his authority was being challenged and therefore he had to act.

When I was a student teacher, I had a student who would literally turn his body sideways and look out the window for the entire class period. I chose to deal with him privately after class rather than create a scene in the classroom where the rest of the students were doing their best to learn.

The Spring Valley teacher could have dropped the issue and detained the student after class. If such intervention was unsatisfactory, he then could have involved a counselor or an administrator. He may have discovered more about the reasons for the girl’s misbehavior in that way.

It’s interesting to me that a number of students cut school to protest the firing of the school police officer. I am sure they view the girl as a troublemaker, and they may not be wrong. But student misbehavior usually comes from a struggle going on within that child. It would have been more beneficial for the teacher and the student to get at the root of the problem and help her rather than make her into a criminal.

The need for police officers in school is an unfortunate reality. School officers investigate incidents on school property and sometimes conduct searches for drugs or weapons. And certainly if there is a major altercation that occurs in school, it is beneficial to have an officer there to handle the situation.

But having a uniformed police officer come into a classroom to handle a matter of class discipline is not what we want to see in our schools. Ironically, calling in the officer created way more disruption than the girl ever had by using her cell phone.

Let’s remember that teens are still children. That frontal lobe in their brain is still developing, and they often make terrible choices. Teachers need to be role models, demonstrating calm and nurturing their students’ maturity as well as intellectual development.

Let’s hope the incident at Spring Valley High can be a learning experience for us all.

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2 thoughts on “School Discipline Not a Police Matter

  1. I’m not sure how I would handle this. So much of what we do in American education is about getting students to behave in a prescribed way, rather than engaging them so they can learn. Learning is the point, not getting a group of people to follow your every direction and every rule. My son, who is quite intelligent and can score an A on a test if he has attended the lectures, cannot remember to turn in homework. Yet, he failed many classes because he didn’t turn in homework. That is grading for behavior. Calling in a police officer reinforces the idea that the student is being taught to obey rules, not taught a curriculum.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that it is not easy for a teacher when s/he feels his or her authority is being questioned. The key is not setting up the confrontation in the first place. I posted on Facebook an interesting piece about gaining cooperation from students by showing them respect. I think it goes a long way toward preventing discipline problems in the classroom.

      Liked by 1 person

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