COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Ten months after video captured a South Carolina deputy pulling a teenager from her desk and tossing her across the floor — sparking a national debate over an officer's role in the classroom — state officials on Tuesday tentatively approved new rules limiting officers' involvement with student discipline.
The state Board of Education also unanimously recommended new classifications for student misbehavior. The proposed rules say officers should not get involved until offenses become criminal, defined as posing a "direct and serious threat" to safety, such as assault, drug sales or gun possession.
Last October, a Richland County deputy was called to a classroom after the then-16-year-old student refused to stop using her cellphone and wouldn't leave the classroom when told by a teacher or administrator. The deputy was fired two days later, after video of a white officer arresting the black student spread.
Board member Traci Young Cooper said the proposed regulations should provide clarity and consistency to districts and law enforcement agencies across the state.
"We've got to make something positive of what occurred," said Young Cooper, co-chairwoman of a group of educators, officers and parents tasked with recommending how to take a commonsense approach to student discipline.
The Spring Valley High incident "did not rise to the level of a criminal offense," she said.
The group believes educators and officers should take a course in how to de-escalate situations, but that didn't make it into the proposed rules due to concerns over unfunded mandates, she said.
Under the proposed conduct rules , using a cellphone in class is among the lowest-level offenses, with possible punishments including after-school detention and demerits. Using a cellphone to bully, harass or cheat rises to a mid-level offense, as does a student's repeated refusal to comply with educators' directives. Suggested punishments for such "level two" misbehavior range from being temporarily booted from class to expulsion.
The rules specify that officers must be called in if a student's conduct is criminal.
Otherwise, their roles include keeping out intruders, being a positive role model, pairing with teachers for law-related lessons and training school personnel on handling crisis situations.
"I'm very impressed with their focus on educating children rather than leaning toward incarceration," said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, an attorney who represents both the girl who was tossed and the student who videotaped the arrest.
The proposed rules "resembled what the law and regulation should be regarding children in classroom — that law enforcement is a backstop not a first stop," said Rutherford, D-Columbia.
The teens still face charges of disorderly conduct, a charge many criticize as too broad and overly used.
That term could be eliminated from the code of conduct, as the proposal replaces it with "behavioral misconduct" (level one) and "disruptive conduct" (level two).
Both regulations require another vote before going to legislators next year.