School resource officers should not be called into classrooms to handle routine discipline issues, according to a Safe Schools Task Force that’s been studying the South Carolina school resource officer program. The task force released its recommendations Tuesday in Columbia.
Last fall, the school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia was fired after he pulled a female student out of her desk violently. The student had been using her cell phone in class and was told to leave the classroom but refused, so the SRO was called in. Sheriff Leon Lott, who fired the officer, says that incident was terrible but it brought about some good, by prompting the formation of the task force to look at changes that are needed in the program.
“We want to have all of our school resource officers trained in what their duties are, you know, crisis intervention, and how to de-escalate situations instead of escalating. So training plays a huge part in what this task force looked at,” says Sheriff Lott, who was a member of the task force.
The task force is recommending that the state provide uniform training requirements for SROs and allow certified, trained law enforcement officer to provide training in addition to training offered at the state Criminal Justice Academy.
But the biggest recommendation is that teachers and school administrators get training in when to call the SRO. Dr. Traci Young Cooper, past chair of the state Board of Education and a member of the task force, says everyone needs to be clear on the SROs’ role. “We want to make sure that they are there to help us handle crisis criminal situations and not involved in the day-to-day management of student behaviors,” she says.
For example, in the Spring Valley situation last fall, the SRO would not have been called in. The offense of using a cell phone in class would be one of the lowest-level offenses, with a possible punishment of after-school detention.
State education superintendent Molly Spearman says, “The violation levels, the incident levels needed to be re-looked at and we think that’s going to make a very positive change in how students are handled and how discipline incidents are handled in the classroom and at the school level.”