Florence 1 passes ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for school fights despite concerns from parents, residents, NAACP

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 8:04 PM EST
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FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - Florence One Schools has now passed a zero-tolerance policy for fighting on school campuses.

FSD1 Superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley introduced the proposed changes during a school board meeting on Nov. 11. The policy then passed by a 6-3 vote after a nearly four-hour board meeting on Thursday.

O’Malley’s recommendation stated any student who touches, punches, or physically hurts a staff member be immediately expelled.

“Enough is enough is what we need to send to our staff members,” O’Malley said last month.

However, a related proposal that has some organizations and community members voicing concerns.

O’Malley also proposed enforcing a “zero-tolerance” policy for any student engaged in a fight. He says those actions could help to decrease the amount of violence happening on the school grounds.

That means students involved in a physical fight could be immediately expelled.

“There’s no fear of consequences anymore,” O’Malley said before board members last month. “My job is to tell parents their kids are in a safe community. I can’t give parents rhetoric that our schools are safe if we have this going on.”

The proposal comes amid the distinct reaching 225 fights between August and November of this year, according to O’Malley. The superintendent said that number is almost double compared to the same period in 2019.

However, O’Malley said that number decreased in the period from Nov. 12 through Dec. 9, saying that just 14 fights were reported in that time.

“We have data that shows that something works,” he said Thursday.

The board took up the measure again Thursday, but not before parents, residents and a representative from the NAACP voiced concerns over the proposal.

Board member Alexis D. Pipkins, Sr., raised objection to the measure, questioning in FSD1 schools met the requirements of being considered “persistently dangerous.”

He also brought up that students practicing self-defense in a fight could face the same severe penalties as those who instigate.

Pipkins was joined by fellow board members E.J. McIver and John Galloway in speaking up, asking the board to at least hold off the vote until the new year and receive more feedback from the community.

Pipkins also offered suggestions that had been provided to him, including faith-based programs and mentorships - providing examples from outside the area on their effectiveness.

O’Malley has said making the consequences more severe is aimed to help to prevent physical altercations from happening.

The changes apply to the student code of conduct, specifically the “Levels of Intervention and Disciplinary Response.”

If enforced, fighting would result in an immediate level 4 intervention and disciplinary response - with possible consequences including expulsion. O’Malley also noted Thursday that administrators would still have discretion for discipline under the revised policy.

Some board members voiced their support for the idea, stating something needs to be done to change the course of physical violence in the schools.

Community leaders and some parents also voiced their concerns over the proposal.

The Florence branch of the NAACP has gone on the record saying they’re completely against any type of zero-tolerance policy in the schools. The South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and the Florence branch wrote a leader to the district expressing their collective disapproval.

Jerry Keith Jr., president of the Florence Branch of the NAACP, says there’s no place for zero-tolerance at the schools. He also said the policy’s enforcement would be harmful to many students.

“Especially black students and students with special needs,” Keith said in an interview with WMBF News prior to Thursday’s meeting. “The school district itself is a little over 50% minority. We have never had this type of policy, not to my knowledge in the history of the district. Expelling a student takes it from a Level 1 violation to a Level 4 violation which would disproportionately affect African-Americans and minority students because of the higher population in the schools.”

The NAACP has also said the zero-tolerance would “likely violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by creating a disparate impact on Black and Latinx/Hispanic students.”

Martina Tiku, an attorney for the National NAACP, says history has shown a zero-tolerance policy to be ineffective with reducing violence in schools.

“We have the benefit of looking at other states and school districts that have implemented similar zero-tolerance policies,” she said. “The studies and data have repeatedly shown these policies do not decrease the level of violence in schools. They’re not preventative measures, instead, they just increase the level of suspension and expulsion. That just means the fights will continue to occur, but students will just be expelled and removed from the schools at higher rates. If we’re looking for a preventative measures, these zero-tolerance policies are not the solution.”

Tiku also said studies show these types of zero-tolerance policies impact all students.

“Research has shown these policies negatively impact the academic achievement of innocent bystanders as well. They fail to create a safer school environment, so as a result, all students suffer, not just those engaging in fights. Even if your child is not behaving in these behaviors, they are somehow harmed by these policies,” she said.

The NAACP is calling on FSD1 leaders to instead “implement a student-centered, preventive approach to combating violence.”

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