The U.S. Department of Justice announced an agreement with a South Carolina sheriff’s department whose deputy violently dragged a Black female student across a classroom floor for refusing to turn over her cell phone.
A DOJ statement said the Richland County Sheriff’s Department will “promptly enact changes to ensure full compliance with federal civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination against students based on race, color, national origin and disability.”
Under the settlement, the sheriff’s department will provide annual training on de-escalation and unbiased policing to its officers who serve schools, develop policies to reduce school-based arrests, and establish a community working group that will recommend improvements.
“The Office for Civil Rights is committed to working with communities like Richland County to ensure that students’ civil rights are protected and school-based law enforcement responses are safe and fair,” said Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason.
According to CBS News, the negotiations that led to this agreement began five months before the incident at Spring Valley High School, where there were previous complaints about arrests at schools. Going forward, deputies will focus on criminal conduct—not classroom management issues that school staff should handle.
The news outlet also noted that this agreement does not settle the DOJ’s investigation into Deputy Ben Fields’ arrest of the 16-year-old student.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union announced a lawsuit on Thursday that challenges South Carolina’s laws against “disturbing a school” and “disorderly conduct.” The organization alleges that the laws are too vague.
“Every year, more than a thousand students in South Carolina — some as young as 7 years old — face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting obnoxiously,” the ACLU said in a statement.
The organization underscored racial disparities in enforcement: Students of color are four times as likely as White students to face criminal charges. Moreover, in Charleston, Black kids are six times more likely to get arrested for those vaguely worded discretionary crimes than White students, the ACLU said.