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FOLLOWUP: The role of a school resource officer

Education

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A video of a school resource officer assaulting a female student went viral on Monday afternoon, according to The State.

The video shows the officer, Senior Deputy Ben Fields of Spring Valley High School in South Carolina, flipping the female student and her desk over before whipping the young student across the room, The State reported.

Fields, who isn’t exactly a fan favorite among some Spring Valley students, pinned the girl to the ground before removing her from the classroom.

The student had been asked by her teacher to put her cellphone away since it was too close to her face, The New York Times reported, but she refused. Fields was brought in with an administrator.

"The young woman insisted that she did not do anything wrong and refused to leave," according to The Times. "She remained quietly in her desk as they continued to ask her to leave. Then Officer Fields grabbed the girl, flipped her desk and dragged her across the floor."

Fields has been temporarily suspended from the school. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department has launched an investigation into the assault to see why Fields body slammed the student. The local police department has also asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident, too, according to Fox News.

The incident struck a chord with members of the Richland County community, leading to Richland 2 Superintendent Debbie Hamm to release a statement.

“Our district is deeply concerned about an incident that occurred at Spring Valley High School today. The incident took place between a school resource officer employed by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and a student,” Hamm wrote in the statement, according to The State. “Student safety is and always will be the district’s top priority. The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students.”

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin also said any action like this from a school resource officer will not be tolerated, Fox News reported.

"We cannot and will not accept this kind of behavior from any law enforcement officer," Benjamin said in a statement, according to Fox News, "and I firmly believe that we need an independent investigation to get to the bottom of this incident and see that justice is done."

Americans also spoke out against the assault — many through the hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh.

School resource officers also serve as guidance counselors and work within the school community by participating in local events, Johns Hopkins explained.

Organizations like the National Association of School Resource Officers offer explanations and trainings for these officers so that they know how to protect students while in school, too.

But there’s been some concern in recent years about school resource officers and how they actually impact students. According to US News & World Report, critics say school resource officers aren’t always properly trained, which leads to some students being unnecessarily punished for their classroom behavior.

“Thanks to inconsistent training models and a lack of clear standards, critics contend school officers are introducing children to the criminal justice system unnecessarily by doling out harsh punishments for classroom misbehavior,” US News & World Report explained.

With the increase of school shootings and violent incidents in schools, resource officers have also taken on disciplinary roles that teachers would have had in years past, according to US News & World Report. Now, resource officers put a heavy focus on arresting or removing students from classes without considering if their misbehavior warrants that action, US News explained.

“Unfortunately anything to do with schools anymore, if you don't make an arrest and something bad happens, it’s over," International Association of Chiefs of Police President Richard Beary said, according to US News.

But there are many cases where school resource officers help students stay safe in school. Many research papers have found that students, faculty and parents all feel safer when there’s a school resource officer in the building.

And there’s real-world evidence of it, too. In May of this year, Debbie Bryce of The Idaho State Journal reported on how a resource officer in Idaho helped students change their lives for the better.

In one case, Sarah McAdams, a 15-year-old freshman, found help through Pocatello High School Resource Officer Forrest Peck, who inspired her to leave her friends who only got her into troubling situations, The Idaho State Journal reported.

“It was kind of weird at first. Most kids think he’s out to get them, but he’s really not; he’s really there to help,” McAdams told The Journal. “I told him I was sick and tired of being in trouble, and he suggested that I change my crowd.”

Send Herb Scribner an email at hscribner@deseretdigital.com or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.

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