The School-to-Prison Pipeline's Legal Architecture: Lessons from the Spring Valley Incident and Its Aftermath

By Gupta-Kagan, Josh | Fordham Urban Law Journal, December 2017 | Go to article overview

The School-to-Prison Pipeline's Legal Architecture: Lessons from the Spring Valley Incident and Its Aftermath


Gupta-Kagan, Josh, Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction                                                   84 I. Case Study: The Spring Valley Incident and the    School-to-Prison Pipeline in South Carolina                 91   A. The October 26, 2015 Spring Valley High School      Incident                                                  92   B. The Incident's Aftermath  94   C. Why Focus on Spring Valley and South Carolina?            97     1. Spring Valley and South Carolina Illustrate the        Pipeline's Legal Architecture  97     2. Intensive Advocacy in South Carolina for Reform         99 II. Spring Valley Incident Reveals the Pipeline's Legal     Architecture                                              101   A. Wide Criminal Law: Disturbing Schools Statutes and      Their Disparate Impact                                   102     1. Statutory Terms Criminalizing Ordinary School        Misbehavior                                            102     2. Disparities by Race, Sex, and Disability               107   B. Legal Instruments' Failure to Prevent Law      Enforcement Involvement in School Discipline             111   C. Diversion Programs Available Through Law      Enforcement, Not School                                  117   D. Prosecutorial Discretion                                 120 III. Reform Efforts After Spring Valley and Why      Comprehensive Reform Is Needed                           122   A. Narrowing Criminal Law                                   123     1. Disturbing Schools Legislation and Kenny v.        Wilson                                                 123     2. South Carolina Experience Demonstrates that        Narrowing the Criminal Law Is an Important but        Insufficient Reform                                    125   B. Governing the Role of SROs                               132     1. Local SRO Reforms in Richland County                   135       a. Voluntary Agreement with the DOJ                     136       b. Renegotiated Memoranda of Agreement                  137     2. South Carolina Department of Education        Regulations                                            140   C. Other Pillars of the Pipeline                            142     1. Reporting Statutes                                     142     2. Absence of School-Based Diversion Programs             142     3. Prosecutorial Discretion                               143 Conclusion                                                    145 

INTRODUCTION

In October 2015, a Black teenager at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina had her cell phone out in her math class. (1) Her teacher told her repeatedly to put it away. Repeatedly she refused. The teacher then called a school administrator, who similarly instructed her to put away her phone. The student continued to refuse. The administrator then called the school resource officer ("SRO"), the uniformed, armed deputy sheriff assigned to the school. (2) The SRO came and informed the student that she had to put away her cell phone. (3) When the student again refused, the officer arrested her for the crime of "disturbing schools." (4) Other students in the classroom recorded the arrest on their cell phones. (5) The video footage captured the SRO pulling the teenager out of her desk and appearing to throw her across the classroom floor. The officer also arrested a second student who encouraged her classmates to record the arrest and vocally objected to it. Students posted their videos, which soon went viral. The incident quickly joined a long list of other incidents involving questionable use of force by SROs. It also contributed to the larger debate about policing tactics, especially those tactics directed at Black individuals and communities.

The incident initially garnered national attention due to the SRO's use of excessive force. But the Spring Valley High School incident also illustrates how specific incidents of relatively minor school misbehavior lead to arrest and prosecution rather than school-based intervention. …

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