School Climate & Safety

School Security Guard Pepper Sprays Student After Cell Phone Incident

By Evie Blad — May 01, 2017 2 min read
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South Carolina’s Orangeburg Consolidated District Five fired a private security firm that staffed its schools after one of its guards used pepper spray on a student following a minor cell phone violation.

The incident touches on larger discussions about the role of school security personnel in routine disciplinary issues and whether it’s appropriate to carry pepper spray in school settings.

The guard, with DTH Protective Services, apparently witnessed a school administrator asking a North Middle/High School student to turn off music playing on a cellphone. The student complied, but the music started playing again, and the guard responded by spraying him, the Associated Press reports.

The guard followed the student into another classroom and sprayed him again, hitting six other students in the process.

A spokesman for the district said in a statement that Orangeburg wants its school security to “assist with de-escalating situations, not cause a disruption.”

Use of Pepper Spray on Students

The question of whether school guards and police should carry pepper spray has been an issue in schools around the country. Often, those conversations arise in reaction to the use of pepper spray as a response to minor or non-violent student behavior.

In 2015, a federal judge ruled that Birmingham, Ala., police officers used unconstitutional excessive force when they sprayed students who were not resisting arrest or posing a threat to others with a mix of pepper spray and tear gas at school. In one of those cases, an officer sprayed a pregnant student who was already restrained with handcuffs. In the other, officers had a 135-pound boy pinned against a wall of lockers.

In 2014, Boston school officials decided to deny a request by unarmed school officers to carry pepper spray.

“I think what we are hearing so far has persuaded me that pepper spray, no matter how well-developed the policy, and no matter how well-crafted the training, and no matter their good intention—might serve to drive a wedge between our students and the school police who do a great job protecting them every day,” then Superintendent John McDonough wrote in a statement reported in the Boston Herald.

In civil rights guidance issues by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice in 2014, the agencies said districts must ensure that school-based police officers and security guards don’t violate students’ civil rights or use excessive force—whether they are employed directly by the district or contracted through local police or a private security agency.

Bonus! Read Education Week’s extensive package on the role of police in schools.

Further reading about school security, school police, and pepper spray:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.