Karen Corcoran-Walsh speaks on South Carolina class incident

Karen Corcoran-Walsh provides synopsis of how this incident could have been avoided

As a former school teacher, family therapist, mother of three children and owner of an adolescent residential treatment center; I have had a unique opportunity to view adolescent behaviors in a variety of environments for more than 25 years.
With this knowledge, I have come to the conclusion that the Richland County Spring Valley High School police altercation in which a student was unnecessarily body slammed and dragged out of a classroom represents the current state of high school violence in America today.

Violence in high schools trending upward

This latest act of violence in an academic institution is just a microcosm of what is occurring on a daily basis at high schools throughout the nation. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) affirms this premise. It’s most recent 2012 report revealed that students between the ages of 12 and 18 years-old experienced 7,490,000 nonfatal victimization – representing an increase from previous years.

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What can we do about student violence?

The solution to the problem of school violence in my opinion is to invite experts from all areas of the education profession as well as families and student bodies to hold round-table discussions, collect data, and formulate a logical, systemic and multi focused new approaches to student, teacher, and police violence that is implemented on a state-level first with the eventual aim to have the protocol used on a national scale.

So what can we learn from the South Carolina high school violent exchange between a student and a police deputy that has sent shock waves around the nation. Since the incident, not a day has passed without a major news station or social media site replaying the video tapes captured of a sheriff’s deputy/School “Resource Officer” (SRO) violently arresting a female student who refused to leave her seat after being disciplined for using a cell phone.

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The SRO opted to use force by dragging and body slamming the student rather than other more peaceful means of resolution. Obviously, there could have been a number of other measures taken by the SRO. After all, he was not breaking up a fight and it was not a life-threatening situation. Basically, the dispute was about a disrespectful teenager using a cell phone who interacted with a police deputy, who exercised extremely poor judgment to say the least.


One potential response could have been to isolate the teen by removing the other students from the class room. Perhaps, without an audience, the teen would not have felt compelled to behave in this manner.

For the most part adolescent behavior is becoming unmanageable for educational administrators, teachers, and security personnel. Schools have been rendered virtually powerless when it comes to responding to insubordinate students. The issue is not one-sided either. There is a prevailing sense of fear among students, who have seen or experienced brutal punishment from high school authorities.

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Is it possible that we are overlooking the obvious?

I think one of the underlying problems of school violence such as the Spring Valley High School fiasco results from students having unfettered freedom to use their cell phones in the class room. When they abuse this privilege – they are responding angrily when they are told to put their cell phone away.

We know that mobile devices of today are basically hand-held video cameras that can cause undue harm to students that unintentionally cross paths with them. Students are using them in a number of anti-social ways including cyber bullying, sexting, or simply to embarrass fellow class mates.

And all of this drama is taking place – in the backdrop – where teachers and staff are finding themselves unable to defend themselves or respond in an appropriate manner. When a child refuses to put a cell phone away and curses at an authority figure, what is a teacher or administrator supposed to do? Obviously not physically drag them away, but at the moment many schools have not employed practical remedial actions.

How does Inspirations for Youth and Families Teen Rehab address disobedient teens?

At Inspirations for youth and families (IYF), we effectively teach high school students every day and attribute our success due to a combination of factors including our small classroom size and reduced teacher student ratio. In addition, cell phone use and Internet access is not permitted, counselors are readily available, students are housed in a sober school environment with random drug testing strictly enforced, and we employ a strong anti-bullying policy.

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These measures have yielded phenomenal results. Besides having a high level of recovery for our teens who suffer from drug or alcohol abuse as well as mental behavior disorders, remarkably some of our teen’s graduate high school while in rehab, while others impressively attain their GED. We offer all types of therapies including art, music, and drama, which we find increase the teen’s morale and broaden their skill-set.

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At IYF, we find our no cell phone and Internet access policy is not an issue with our teens and does not impede our student’s academic performance. IYF students use their computers to send homework assignments to their teachers, word processing, and graphic illustration. If supervised, they are allowed to access the Internet for educational purposes only.

Now, I am not proposing to regulate schools to the extent that we do at our teen treatment center, but exercising a little more control over external distractions can go a long way. Perhaps, if the student in the South Carolina high school was not permitted to use her cell phone in the class room, this incident would never have occurred and we would not be discussing it today.

Follow me on Twitter: @AskAboutTeens


About Karen Corcoran-Walsh

Karen Corcoran-Walsh, CAP, ICADC, MFT, ASAM is nationally known as an expert in the treatment of mental health and drug or alcohol abuse and addiction, also known as Dual Diagnosis, with a specialty in working with teenagers. Renowned as an adolescent addiction treatment center professional, she has worked in the professions of education and drug treatment for approximately 20 years. Karen is the co-founder of Inspirations For Youth And Families, LLC an adolescent treatment program and The Cove Center For Recovery, LLC an adult addiction treatment center.