Anyone who has watched the video footage of Ben Fields assaulting a high school student in South Carolina knows that his actions were inappropriate under the circumstances–wholly disproportionate to the what the student’s action (and inaction) required and, accordingly, completely unacceptable. Indeed, the student remained in her chair during the attack, never a physical threat to Mr. Fields, her teacher or other students. The facts known to date indicate that the student’s conduct was inappropriate. She was disrespectful, violated school rules, and failed to follow her teacher’s instructions. In other words, the student was wrong. Period.
So what is a school to do? The answer is not as simple as it seems. Detention, letters home, write-ups, etc., oftentimes are ineffective and a waste of time for all involved. Discipline in the form of suspension is welcomed by some students and expected by some families. And expulsion fails to educate a child, the antithesis of the goal of public education.
As schools throughout our country wrestle with balancing the need to create and maintain effective learning environments with ensuring the safety and well-being of staff, teachers, administrators and students, one thing is clear: fear, intimidation, and physical assault is not the answer. Schools are supposed to be a safe place. A safe place to discuss ideas, to explore, to inquire, to grow. Since children have existed, discipline has been an issue–school or no school–just ask any parent.
Our schools are not a place for either law enforcement or guns. We are a progressive nation. There are plenty of ways in which this situation could have been avoided. Children could be required to surrender their phones to a phone tree before class begins. In this case, were there no phone there would be no Mr. Fields.
Rest assured the safety and adequacy of public education weighs heavily on my mind. Bullying, violence, sex, mass shootings, and eating disorders are only a few issues that keep me up at night. There is no need to add to my list. Keep the guns–and the hired guns–out of school. Let our children be children. And let the schools determine how to handle such a situation.
Now, any child in that classroom, as well as anyone who has watched the video, has a reason–a very good reason–not to trust law enforcement officers. At least the sheriff’s office got it right, “Ben Fields did wrong . . . ”
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A white sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina was fired Wednesday after county officials concluded he had acted improperly when, in a videotaped confrontation, he dragged and then threw a female African-American student across a high school classroom this week.
The deputy, Ben Fields, was dismissed two days after the episode at Spring Valley High School, where students recorded an encounter that spread quickly across social media and became a vivid reminder of concerns about the treatment of black people by law enforcement officers.
“He picked a student up, and he threw the student across the room; that is not a proper technique,” Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County said at a news conference in Columbia, where he told reporters, “Deputy Ben Fields did wrong this past Monday, so we’re taking responsibility for that.”
— Ben Fields, South Carolina Deputy, Fired Over Student Arrest, The New York Times (Oct. 28, 2015)