A South Carolina deputy's rough takedown and arrest of an uncooperative 16-year-old girl in a high school classroom adds fuel to a debate over the proliferation and proper role of the police in schools, where officers are often called on to deal with student misbehavior that used to be handled by teachers and administrators, says the New York Times. Physical confrontations between officers and students in schools are not so unusual as they once were. This month, the actions of officers on campus generated protests in Round Rock, Tx., where an officer put a student in a chokehold to stop a fight, and in Pawtucket, R.I., where an officer slammed a student to the floor. In August, a Kentucky school district was sued over an officer shackling children ages 8 and 9.
Since the early 1990s, thousands of school systems around the country have put officers in schools, most often armed and in uniform, while many schools have adopted “zero tolerance” policies for misconduct. That has produced sharp increases in arrests, especially for minor offenses, giving criminal records to students who in the past might have faced nothing more serious than after-school detention. In the South Carolina case, a girl defied a teacher's instruction to stop using her phone in class and refused orders, first from the teacher, then from an administrator, and finally from a sheriff's deputy assigned to the school, to leave the classroom. Yesterday, Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County fired the deputy, Ben Fields, saying that his response violated department policy. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the FBI are investigating. Too often, school officers are “using law enforcement responses to work with kids, and that doesn't look so pretty,” said Lisa Thurau of Strategies for Youth, an organization in Cambridge, Ma., that trains school officers.