SC bill would clarify SROs’ role, add training

AP images
AP images

COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – A bill prefiled in the South Carolina House would clarify the role of school resource officers and require them to undergo some new training. The bill would also require some new training for teachers and administrators.

Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, prefiled the bill after the incident at Spring Valley High School in Columbia in 2015. Then-SRO Ben Fields was called into a classroom when a student refused to put her phone away after being told to by the teacher and an assistant principal. Cell phone video shot by students in the class shows Fields pull the girl out of her desk and drag her across the room, then handcuffing her.

Rep. Neal’s bill would clarify that SROs are not to be used to discipline students. “Richland County kind of led the way by saying that, in their contract with the school districts, that they made it clear that the school resource officer was not to be involved in discipline,” Rep. Neal says. That contract was in place years before the Spring Valley incident and that’s one of the reasons Fields was fired by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott—that Fields got involved in a school discipline matter.

Senior Deputy Shawn Powers, a Richland County deputy who’s also a school resource officer, says, “We are not disciplinarians in the school. As SROs, that is not our job. In fact, I even tell my school and my teachers, ‘I’m not here to make your kids behave.'”

The bill would also require the state Criminal Justice Academy to create a new cultural competency curriculum and then use it to train SROs. “Sometimes, staff and teachers just are not prepared and just don’t understand the cultural behaviors that sometimes children manifest, and they can read them, they can misinterpret them as intentional misbehaving or tendencies to be juvenile delinquents. In fact, that’s not what’s happening sometimes, and I think it helps if these cultures can be introduced to teachers and staff in a way that can help them by giving them background on what might be motivating certain actions by children,” Rep. Neal says.

Middle and high school teachers and administrators would also have to go through one hour of training, when they renew their credentials, on conflict intervention and resolution, so they can better handle classroom conflicts or discipline issues, since SROs would not be allowed to get involved in those.

And the bill would clarify the state’s “disturbing schools” law, so it could not be used to charge students for misbehavior. “What this simply does is to clarify and redefine so that it’s clear that disturbing school is to be applied to only those individuals who are intruding on the campus,” Rep. Neal says.

State lawmakers begin a new legislative session on January 10.