Wake County Activists Draw Link to South Carolina Student-flipping Incident

UPDATE: A revised version of the press release was sent Thursday night titled “How Many WCPSS Students Have Been Victims of Abuse By SROs?”

Local youth activists are trying to draw parallels between Wake County school resource officers and the case of a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy who flipped a disruptive black student out of her desk and tossed her across her math class floor.

In a press release Thursday titled “Will a Wake County student be next?” the left-leaning Youth Organizing Institute says the incident caught on video in South Carolina “clearly showed that SROs and law enforcement should not handle routine school discipline issues.” Deputy Ben Fields was fired Wednesday and is facing federal and state investigations over his actions.

“Similar to Officer Ben Fields, many school resource officers in Wake County Public Schools System (WCPSS) are not trained in child or adolescent development, therefore ill-equipped to effectively handle youth discipline matters,” according to the press release.

Local law-enforcement agencies have defended their SROs, saying these officers are highly trained in their duties. All Wake County high schools, most middle schools and a few elementary schools have school resource officers.

The Youth Organizing Institute charges that “WCPSS officers also have a history of excessive force toward black students.” As examples, the group cites:

▪ The 2013 arrests of six Enloe High School students after a water-balloon fight in which Raleigh Police were called to campus amid rumors the balloons might be filled with urine, bleach and other noxious substances. The Youth Organizing Institute charges that one of the arrested students suffered “a concussion at the hands of an officer.”

▪ The 2014 arrest of a Southeast Raleigh High School student by the school resource officer on charges of fighting another student on a school bus. The student spent 21 days in jail because the foster care system couldn’t find a place for her.

“Why does Wake County allow SROs more decision-making power over students lives in the classrooms than parents, counselors, teachers, and principals?” the group says in the press release. “Who will protect students from over-reactions and violence from SROs who abuse their position of power?”

Click here to view the revised version of the press release sent Thursday night.

The Youth Organizing Institute is highlighting the South Carolina incident to help promote Saturday’s 4th annual march in Raleigh “to end the school-to-prison pipeline.” They’ll start at 2:30 p.m. at Washington Elementary School on 1000 Fayetteville Street and march to Central Prison on 1300 Western Blvd.

In June 2014, the Wake County school system entered into a new memorandum of understanding with local law-enforcement agencies on the role of school resource officers. The agreement requires SROs to undergo specialized training, receive direction on handling investigations and making arrests on campuses, and have to file a report whenever bringing charges against a student.

As part of Wake’s new discipline plan, referrals and arrest data by school resource officers and other law enforcement officers is tracked and reviewed for patterns of disparity.

But groups like the Youth Organizing Institute say Wake still isn’t doing enough to train and monitor SROs.