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Violence Against Students In Class? Teachers Say It Doesn't Add Up

By now, anyone who's wanted to has seen the video that shows a white school policeman violently subduing a 15-year-old black girl in Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C. Most people agree on the general details: The (still unnamed) girl had her cellphone out, which was against the rules. Her teacher asked for it. She refused to give it up. The teacher called the vice principal, who asked for it, and asked her to get up from her seat and leave with him. Nope.

The vice principal then called Senior Deputy Ben Fields to take the girl from the classroom. What happened next has sparked a national debate on race and discipline in public school: Fields (who is white) grabbed the girl by the neck, flipped her while still seated at her desk, then dragged her to the front of the room.

The video (taken by a student) shows students cringing, looking at their computers or away as the girl is contained, while the school administrator looks on. (In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, the girl's lawyer, Tim Rutherford, said she sustained injuries to her head, neck and arm from the confrontation, as well as a rug burn. Sheriff Leon Lott concedes the possibility of a rug burn, but says she was otherwise uninjured.)

Some of the severest critics of how the girl's defiance was handled have come from teachers. The Los Angeles Times talked with a few about how they handled defiance in their own classrooms:

"Like others interviewed, [Joshua Pechthalt, president, California Federation of Teachers] said disruptive behavior was often a sign of problems at home. Instead of confronting students in the classroom, Pechthalt said, he would try to speak with them out of class or steer them to one of the school's mental health professionals.

" 'Kids are very closed; they're not going to tell you that their parents had a big fight or their cousin was shot at first,' he said. 'I was lucky that I had a lot of resources. I'm not sure many schools have them anymore.' "

In the meantime, a recent study by Columbia Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw shows that black girls are punished more quickly and more harshly than any student demographic, and the Spring Valley incident aligns with that information. The student left the situation in handcuffs and under arrest, which could have lifelong consequences.

The full story over at the LAT is well worth a look.

And if you're a teacher and have experience with dealing with defiant students, share your experience — what worked, what didn't — in the comments section below.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.

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