Mia for Senate

Disturbing…

Kids have been clowning, misbehaving and disturbing schools since the beginning of time.

I can remember harmless high school pranks and countless warnings from teachers, which usually led to a double-dose of punishment—since the news always beat me home.

Back then, misbehavior wasn’t tolerated…but it wasn’t a crime.

Being obnoxious, boisterous or defiant might’ve warranted a parent/teacher conference or afterschool detention, but not an arrest.

Cursing in class or refusing to obey a teacher would’ve landed you in the Principal’s office, but never handcuffs.

Today, anything from burping in class to refusing to put a cell phone away, can get a student locked up and locked in to a criminal justice system that often impacts the course of their lives forever.

That’s because South Carolina’s “disturbing schools” law has become the go-to, catch-all offense that places non-criminal, school disciplinary issues in the hands of law enforcement. When that happens, so do incidents like the one at Spring Valley.

Defiance is part of adolescence. If simply acting like a teenager had been a crime when we were teens, wonder how many of us would’ve been locked up.

Making law enforcement officers school disciplinarians is just bad policy.  Here’s why…

  1. School Resource Officers (SROs) were placed in our schools to protect students inside from outside agitators.
  2. A law this vague is interpreted and enforced many different ways by many different people.
  3. Minority and special needs students are disproportionately and often, irreparably impacted.

That’s why I’m fighting to amend the law that sends our kids to prison, when they should be headed to the Principal.

Disciplining children for misbehaving in class is the role of parents, guardians and school administrators…not police officers.

Don’t get me wrong. If a student commits a crime at school, he or she should be arrested.  That’s why SROs are in our schools to investigate crimes like theft, burglary, assaults, drugs, etc., which protects our students and teachers from harm.

Like you, I send my son to school to learn.  And when I kiss him goodbye each morning, I’m entrusting him to Richland Two…not the Sheriff’s Department.

School Administrators have always been tasked with managing bad behavior. That’s why they’ve got suspensions, expulsions and a variety of other penalties at their disposal.

Here’s the deal…

I’m not a teacher.  But, I do listen to my constituents, family members and friends who are, and their frustrations are most often with school administrators, not students.

Yes, teachers should be able to teach. They shouldn’t have to parent.  And sadly, a teacher’s compassion, concern and guidance may be the only “parenting” some students get.  Still…schools are well-equipped to administer counseling, corrective discipline and tough love without criminalizing students for noncriminal behavior.

Fortunately, our Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Richland School District Two are among an overwhelming majority of organizations across SC, like the Joint Legislative Children’s Committee, USC Law School, SC Bar and many others who fully support this bipartisan bill to put classroom misbehavior back into the hands of school administrators.

That’s gotta happen if our communities ever hope to move towards reconciliation and healing.

But, the SC Sheriff’s Association and Prosecution Commission insist that the ability to arrest and prosecute kids for being kids, even when they haven’t committed a crime, is a “tool” they “don’t want removed from their toolboxes.”

Guess that’s why the “disturbing schools” charge has been levied against SC students well over 33,000 times in the last 15 years.  In 2015, “disturbing schools” was the second most common charge against juveniles in SC, with an average of 7 students charged each day school was in session.

So whether it’s a kindergartener who throws a tantrum, a middle schooler who yells during class or a high school kid who refuses to obey her teacher…South Carolina’s disturbing schools law is there to feed the school-to-prison-pipeline and continue wreaking havoc on our children.

But this is a fight we plan to win.

School discipline is a classroom management, not a criminal justice issue.

The job of educators and law enforcement officers is tough enough already. So, if these “tool-box protectors” wanna shift their officers’ focus from investigating crimes to managing classrooms, perhaps they should trade-in their badges and guns for teaching certificates.

Otherwise, their Associations’ aggressive lobbying efforts recklessly disregard the desires of the school districts that employ them.

And that should be “disturbing” to all of us…