The cop isn't the only problem in the Spring Valley High video. How we treat students is too.

Yesterday, the world saw shocking footage of a young African-American girl being grabbed across the neck, aggressively yanked to the ground under a flipped desk, and dragged across the room by a white male police officer.

The disturbing clip went viral along with calls for justice and the hashtag #AssaultatSpringValley.



The response was swift. This morning, Deputy Sheriff Officer Ben Fields was fired.

In a press conference today, Richmond County Sheriff Leon Lott stated that the girl had not been a danger or posed a threat to anyone and that Fields clearly did not use proper protocol. The Justice Department and the FBI will also be looking into the case to see if further action is needed as some are calling for Fields to now be prosecuted for assault and his use of excessive force.

But something Lott said during the press conference exposed a troubling problem that has nothing to do with police brutality.

Lott admitted that maybe this case provides a good opportunity to evaluate (emphasis added) "the role of the [Student Resource Officer] and what schools are using us for. Should [Officer Fields] have ever been called? Maybe that's something that the administrator should have handled without ever calling the officer."

So why was the cop called in the first place? What was the student doing that was so "disruptive"?

She had her cell phone out in class. According to a classmate, it was only "for a quick second," so when the teacher told her to leave because of it, she refused, stating that she hadn't done anything wrong. For that, she was ultimately grabbed around her neck and dragged across the floor by a cop.


The police action taken in response to what sounds like no more than a stubborn student shines a spotlight on the real issue: An alarming culture of control and punishment within our education system.

Under the guise of "discipline," our schools have become a place where students are made to follow an excessive number of rules and then harshly punished for breaking them.

Princeton University's Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies and faculty associate of law and public affairs Dr. Imani Perry addressed the issue head-on in the following Facebook post yesterday. If you want to read it in its entirety, here it is. But I'll break down the key stuff below.

Dr. Perry begins by saying that "Punishment has become the dominant logic in so many arenas in this society, especially [in] schools for poor and working class Black and Latino students."

The military-like school rules that demand that children be still, sit for long periods of time in uncomfortable positions, not use the bathroom without permission or stretch when they need to, stand in single file line, be silent, sit on the floor to "earn their desks," and other similar restrictions can make school feel less like a place of growth and learning and more like boot camp.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates described his memories of attending an urban public school in this way in his autobiography "Between the World and Me":

When children break these rules, the punishment is often harsh and excessive.

In her Facebook post, Perry calls the logic behind these harsh punishments both "developmentally inappropriate and pedagogically unsound." In other words, child specialists and education experts alike know that the type of discipline is neither healthy nor productive.

And to make matters worse, this harsh punishment is disproportionately doled out to students of color.

Photo via iStock.

Just last year a report on school discipline in the nation's public schools was released by U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights and the results were disheartening, to say the least. Across all age groups, black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled.

It starts early, too. According to the report, black children only make up 18% of preschoolers but make up nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions. Because black 4-year-olds are so uniquely out of control?

Those punishments often quickly escalate to police engagement.

Photo by Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images.

With the increased presence of student resource officers in schools, student actions are much more likely to be labeled criminal. According to Think Progress:

Thousands of officers across the country — many of whom are armed — are more involved in the disciplinary process than ever and exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids are more likely to be suspended and expelled for minor offenses. More children are arrested for nonviolent, school-related offenses, such as violating a dress code or walking in the hall without a pass.

The DOE report also found that while black students make up about 16% of enrolled students, they make up more than a quarter of all students who are referred to the police.

It is what experts call the school-to-prison pipeline — and it's what we saw play out right in front of our eyes in the Spring Valley High School clip.

This is the culture that not only allowed an officer to physically assault a young girl for being "disrespectful" but one in which the teacher stood idly by and watched it happen.

My heart aches not just for her but for the countless children who are treated every day with far less humanity, love, and compassion than they deserve — for the children who are treated more like military recruits than precious minds and more like caged animals than daughters and sons.


Are some rules necessary and helpful? Sure. And is discipline also sometimes necessary to create an environment that is conducive to learning for all students? Absolutely.

But theoretically, we send our children to school to learn not just reading and writing but also how to be responsible, creative, thinking, self-governing adults in the real world. Does being kicked out of class and ultimately arrested for looking at a cellphone really accomplish that goal?

The result of this punitive culture and police engagement in classroom discipline was on display, front and center in the #AssaultatSpringValley video. And while Fields has already been fired for his excessive use of force, it's up to us to demand better for all students, especially our most vulnerable, each and everyday.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less