What the Officer at Spring Valley High Could Have Done…

I recently came across an article, related to the Assault at Spring Valley High. The article was quite infuriating to me. The same old blame the victim excuse looms on, so I had to respond.

Some people have asked the question, “if the officer was wrong for throwing the young lady across the room, then what should the officer have done to get the girl to comply?”

Well, instead of focusing on what the cop could have done differently, ( it should go without saying that officers should know how to safely and effectively restrain a non-violent person), I’m going to focus on somethings that might have been done to prevent this situation from transpiring altogether.

First, the only time that the level of physical force exhibited by Officer Ben Fields is justifiable is when a person has a weapon and is a physical threat to others. This was not the case at Spring Valley High, so the force was not needed.

Here are other things that could have been done:


  1. Set clearer expectations and consequences: In order to follow the rules, some students need expectations to be clearly modeled. When dealing with students displaying defiant behavior, it’s important to set clear, consistent expectations and consequences and post the expectations around the room. There should be a clear  “Cell phones belong in your back pack,” expectation and it should be visibly posted in the room.
  2. Collect all student’s phones at the start of class: I worked in an educational setting with teenagers and the instructor had a “Tech. box.”  The expectation was at the beginning of each lesson, students place their technology (phones etc.) in the box and they collected the cell phone after class.This works for students who are just too tempted to use the phone. They are being set up for success by having the temptation removed.
  3. Use Positive Behavior Support: This is an evidenced-based practice used by mostly by psychologists and special educators, it is very beneficial for children who have emotional/behavior challenges.  This technique and an incentive plan could have been developed if this student was consistently breaking the cellphone expectation.   “PBS provides a process to understand and resolve the problem behavior of individuals or children that is based on values and empirical research. It offers an approach to develop an understanding of why the child engages in problem behavior and strategies to prevent the occurrence of problem behavior while teaching the child new skills.”

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4. Talk to her privately: You see children are not robots. They have their own feelings and children have things they are going through too. When working with students, it’s important to build a relationship and a sense of trust. If they don’t trust you, often they may not listen to you. This is important for children with emotional/behavior challenges, especially. If the adults in the situation had talked to the young lady, they may have better understood why she wasn’t following directions. Did she not understand the work, was she depressed because she just lost her mother and was not able to focus at that time?

5. Use positive guidance: “That’s a nice cell phone you have there. Let’s wait until after class to use it though.”  “That’s a nice cell phone, but where should your cell phone be during class?”  “[Student’s Name], can you please put your cell phone in your backpack so that you can focus on the lesson.”

If that doesn’t work, you can give a choice…

“Here are your options, you can put your cell phone away now and use it later during free time,” OR “you can continue to use it now and  lose it during free time and for the rest of the day. What would you prefer?”

At that point, if the student is still defiant, then you let the Administrator or supervisor and the student’s guardian know that she has lost her cellphone privilege for the day and discuss with her after class about what she needs to do to earn her cell phone privilege back in the future. At that point, she made the choice to use the cell phone and lose it later.

6. Leave her alone: It’s possible that if the student had been left alone, she would have put the phone away and it would have been a non-issue.  Some students thrive off of attention, even negative attention, don’t feed into it. You have to pick your battles.


7. Give her a break: Some students just need a moment to take a break if they get overwhelmed in the classroom. You could have a “safe area,” or “break space,” set up. Go and talk to the girl and just say, “cell phones aren’t permitted in class, if you need to take a two minute break, you’re permitted to go to break space  and  quietly use your phone.”

Be sure you clearly set the expectation about the break space, you might use “break tickets,” and have a visual timer or digital clock set up there. You need to have already built trust with the student and presume that they will respect the safe zone and return to class once they’ve finished their break. They should understand that the break space is a privilege and in order to keep it, they have to respect it. 


8. Call the school counselor or another expert: If there is consistently a problem with a child being defiant in the classroom and you’ve tried using all of the above techniques and redirection strategies, then there may be a deeper issue going on.

The student could have an undiagnosed disability, the student could simply have other emotional issues going on. Sometimes, you just need to call for help. That may mean that an ABC (antecedent- behavior-consequence) assessment needs to be conducted or a Functional Behavior Assessment and a Behavior Intervention Plan is needed. (All of these assessments are designed to determine what triggers in the environment are prompting certain behaviors and reactions from the child and developing behavior plans that support positive behavior based off of these assessment.)

It could mean that the student just needs more encouragement because she’s struggling in the class and needs more private one-on-one sessions. It could mean she needs to see the counselor on a regular basis because she’s depressed from the loss of her mother.

9. Call the police: This is a resort, that I do not feel applies in this case.  This should only be used when a student is displaying violent or unsafe behavior that is a serious threat to herself or others. If a student has a weapon and is threatening someone or if a student is attacking someone or displaying a legitimate threat to others, contact the police.

In this case, I do not believe the police needed to be involved.

Refusing to get out of a chair is not police call worthy. Talking back to a teacher is not police call worthy. These are all defiance issues that can be corrected by the school.

Even so, in this case, when the  policeman was called (unnecessarily in my opinion) the police officer should have known how to use the safest and most effective restraint methods. If a police officer doesn’t know the correct procedures for doing that, they need to rethink their job or at least get some better training.

It is also worth stating that ideally school cops would receive special training in restorative justice and practice, but that’s another topic.

10. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Support: As someone who has worked in an educational setting, with many children who exhibited defiant behaviors, I know it is extremely difficult at times. At one point, I had a break down and ended up in tears out of frustration. Thankfully, my supervisor was very smart and an expert in special education and she was able to provide the support and resources that I needed to help my students and keep my sanity. I was able to help my students only after I A.) Built a sense of trust B.) Employed the above strategies. As adults, we are humans too and if you get the point where you feel like you’re about to breakdown or throw a kid across the room, walk away.

Flag someone down to watch the room, if necessary, so you can take a few deep breaths. 95% of the time, it’s not as bad as it seems. A kid talking back or a kid not doing their work is not worth going over the edge and losing your job.

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