Several weeks ago I read three letters to the editor in another newspaper that focused on the importance of classroom discipline and respect for authority, and I have not been able to get the incident out of my mind. The letters were written with regard to the high school girl in Spring Valley, SC who was thrown around like a rag doll and body-slammed by power-lifting Deputy-School Resource Officer Ben Fields. Her crime? Refusing to turn over her cell phone. The incident was captured on two cell phone videos.
Here’s how the violent arrest was described by CNN:
“The videos show the officer standing over a student, seated at her desk. He puts his arm near her neck, then yanks her backward. The desk tips over and the student crashes onto the floor. The uniformed officer doesn’t let go, sharply tugging the student toward the front of the classroom. She flies out of her desk and slides several feet across the floor.”
Although the letter writers were critical of the deputy’s actions, there was not a scintilla of sympathy for the victim expressed in their reflections or, seemingly, any wish to know or even wonder about her back story.
Maybe they didn’t know that her grandmother had become her caregiver for years because her own mother had lost custody of her due to criminal activity. Perhaps they were not aware that her grandmother died a week before the classroom incident. Or, that her cell phone was her only personal property, a comforting transitional object.
This information is sourced but isn’t “reportable” in the news because of her age and status in foster care. If the media “outs” her mother and grandmother she becomes identifiable. But surely the school must have known. And if they didn’t, they are negligent.
Did they do anything to comfort the grieving girl or just call the school resource officer to discipline her and bend to their authority? Why didn’t they call the guidance counselor or school social worker instead of a law enforcement officer? Did he know she was grieving? Did school authorities tell him? Would it have made any difference?
CNN also reported the following: “Curtis Lavarello, one of more than 46,000 people employed full time as school resource officers [across the country], has seen this kind of scenario ‘played out hundreds of times, … and it’s one that can be handled so simply.’ But he can’t explain why this one was handled as it was. ‘We saw a pretty routine discipline issue become a criminal issue in just a matter of minutes,’ said Lavarello, head of the School Safety Advocacy Council. ‘It escalated needlessly’.”
Discipline and respect for authority are completely beside the point in this case. Those issues are for another discussion. What this teenage girl who was grieving needed was some empathy and TLC and not physical abuse by school personnel and condemnation by judgmental outsiders.
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.