The Three Rs and a Beat Down

Spring Valley HighBy now, we’ve all seen the video of Officer Ben Fields having a “field day” on a 16 year old high school student.  We’ve also likely seen all the victim blaming (well if she respected authority; well if she had only done what the teacher/principal/officer asked her to do, etc).

And I’ve seen several great articles on the racial bias implications of the way that young lady was man-handled.  THIS is one of the best ones I’ve seen.  [FULL DISCLOSURE: the author of that article is my cousin.  Even still, it is an awesome article]  Let me say THIS about THAT issue:

If we examine even the surface of how this child was treated, we’ll find just what most of us know to be true: racism. Why doesn’t it happen to white, Asian, Indian and Hispanic girls? Why aren’t those young girls subjected to the same level of “man-handling” that black girls and women are?  Because there isn’t the context of 400 years of slavery, black codes, Jim Crow and now Jim Crow, Jr. connected to the others. Black people, including (especially?) black women and girls have a long history of being objectified and dehumanized in this country. The depth and breadth of the erasure of our humanity is staggering.

But I digress from the topic at hand: school discipline.

Some people ask what SHOULD the school and FORMER officer Ben Fields have done in the face of her alleged defiance to requests to put her cell phone away and to get out of her seat?

Well, let’s address that.  How should this allegedly non-compliant, defiant teen have been handled?

I’m a school board member in a large urban district.  Do you have any idea how many noncompliant teens there are in a school district on any given day between middle and high schools?  I receive daily emails from district administration informing the board of situations where students have been defiant and escalated.

What’s the appropriate response to her very typical teenage behavior?  Do you think this officer’s reaction is how you handle disrespectful, noncompliant teens? Is his behavior an acceptable standard?

All together now class: “Hell no!”

First, the teacher and/or school administration should not have called an officer for the “egregioius” offense of not giving up her cell phone. Talk about wasting educational time.

How about leaving it to be dealt with for later disciplinary action? A detention? That’s about what her cellphone offense merited.  How about, worst-case an in-school suspension? Perhaps not being allowed back in class on a go forward basis with a cell phone?  Consequences don’t have to be violent to be effective.

And then, what if the school administrators had really stepped out of the box and engaged in a restorative justice practice with her?  Restorative justice is an approach to discipline based on respect, responsibility, relationship-building and relationship-repairing. It focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment. It aims to keep kids in school and to create a safe environment where learning can thrive.  Interested?  Read more about restorative justice here and here.

How many examples do I have to give?

Turns out this child at Spring Valley High School is a recent foster care child. She’s got a lot going on. Hopefully they are providing appropriate services to her and in the future will use CPI (crisis prevention intervention) training to handle situations as a school discipline issue, not a criminal police matter. First lesson: unless she is a danger to herself and to others, not every situation needs to be solved right then and there; otherwise it becomes a power struggle and escalates. There was nothing so urgent about her behavior that merited that response, or any response for that matter, from a police officer.

If we learn nothing else from this case about school discipline, we should use this situation as the “poster child” example of why we need CPI training and trauma-informed care in our schools.

Kids need effective discipline; not beat downs.