Take Action ›
Join educators to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. Click here ›
When North Carolina teacher Tracy Phillips heard about last week’s incident involving a Wake County school resource officer body slamming a teenage girl, she couldn’t even watch the video. “I was so disgusted,” she says.
The video, which quickly went viral, shows a male officer picking up a slim African-American teenager, hoisting her in the air and dropping her to the floor before leading her away in handcuffs.
It’s not clear whether the 15-year-old was trying to break up a fight between her sister and another student or joined the fight to help her sister. Either way, says Phillips, “you’re dealing with children and unless an officer is threatened, there’s no need for excessive force.”
The incident, which occurred in North Carolina’s largest school district, re-energized an ongoing conversation about the role of police officers in schools and the use of disproportionate force in disciplining students.
“I taught in a school where the number of police in the building outnumbered the number of counselors on any given day,” says Bryan Profitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, the school district that borders Wake County.
“I respected our school resource officers (SROs) but would rather have had four more counselors who could help the kids cool off if they were in the middle of some kind of crisis,” declares Profitt, who insists that providing the mental health supports students need would be a much better use of resources than creating a climate that normalizes the policing of students from elementary through high school.
“One SRO told me they’re prepared for the street but don’t receive training in how to deal with behavioral issues inside a school,” shares Phillips, who works in Thomasville City school district, an hour north of Wake County. “Clearly, we need ongoing training for everyone in the school community.” NEA policy recommends training for SROs on age-appropriate interventions and how to distinguish between discipline and criminal episodes.
Phillips, a middle school family and consumer science teacher, credits the lessons she learned as a member of NEA’s School Discipline Task Force with making her a more effective and compassionate advocate for her students. She also believes the recommendations and guidance in NEA’s policy statement can support the improvement of school climate and discipline outcomes.
Holding her own school up as an example, she says they’ve seen steady improvement in school climate by focusing on positive discipline practices, including a monthly focus group that provides students with a safe space for discussing school climate and discipline issues with administrators.
“A lot of this is just commonsense,” observes Phillips. “You don’t pick up a 15- year-old who’s not threatening you and throw her to the ground. Students don’t need to be slammed. They need to be taught. They need to be guided. And they need some love. Many of our students just need someone to talk with them.”
For more information, see NEA’s policy statement on school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline.