How aggression & stereotypes led an 11 year old to be charged with 2 felonies by a School Peace Officer.
I write today’s piece angrily, and this is not how I try to come to you all, ever. Yet there’s no better way to describe my feelings other than outrage. I recently became aware of a case out of Farmington, New Mexico, and was brought to tears when I saw the way a grown man, in a position of power, used his authority to assault an 11 year old girl on school grounds. The worst of it, is that this happens more often than we’d like, where some school police officers usher students to and through the juvenile justice system due to a lack of de-escalation tactics and stereotypical biases. I want to use this sad situation to underscore how REAL the school to prison pipeline is. Had it been up to this one condemnable officer, this student would have two felonies, to answer for. Both of which were dismissed after review of the video footage.
It all started on August 27th at Mesa View Middle School when School Peace Officer, Zachary Christensen, reported an 11 year old, 6th grader had assaulted two staff members, and was resisting arrest. Thankfully, the 77 minute body camera video contradicted his entire description of events. What the video does show is a child who is initially quiet, and at best non-compliant. The initial incident that started this entire fiasco, revolves around the girl taking an extra milk from the cafeteria, and at some point throwing that milk on the floor. Based on this officers biases, lack of cultural competency, and poor communication skills, it’s evident that whatever training he had wasn’t effective. Zachary Christensen resigned on October 1st, 2019.
Too See the Video Click Below: (please be advised the content may disturbing, so assess what’s best for you)
So what can we do about it? Steve Hebbe, police chief, said that officer Christensen had attended the required de-escalation and peace officer training, I ask did he master them? Obviously not. Even when a school administrator attempted to intervene saying, “she is not a threat to yourself or others at this moment,” and “you are not going to use excessive force to get this done” Christensen persisted yelling back “we’re not excessive” using his full weight to pin the child down. We’ve got to act now if we want the behavior of our black and brown students to stop being criminalized in schools. Please take a moment to call or email the police chief and demand diversity and equity training with mastery requirements for “peace officers”! Let’s make some noise, we can be proud of!
CALL TO ACTION!!!!
CALL: 505) 599-1053 & Ask to speak to Chief Hebbe OR Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Script: “Hi, My Name is ______________. I am calling about the incident with Officer Christensen that occured on August, 27th, 2019. I am aware he has resigned, however what’s being done to ensure the rest of your officers in schools won't assault children under the guise of the law? (listen) We are advocating for diversity and equity training, with mastery requirements, for “peace officers”. This is the only way to ensure we aren’t putting people like this next to our children”.
Countless educators are exiting America’s Classrooms in droves. The one thing education needs less of are teachers who are going to abandon scholars mid-year, so I say this with all the love in the world, but get you some teaching experience before pursuing this field, because what it looks like, is nothing like what it actually is. It is long hours, I mean the longest, at home too. It’s endless grading, it’s students who are uneager to learn and need to be motivated to engage, it's angry parents sometimes frustrated by systemic injustices they can’t solve alone, and it’s even co-workers who have stayed past their time and make the work harder. So how do you get a sneak peak of the real deal before you take expensive classes, declare your major, or attempt to save the disadvantaged youth of our country?
Even if your someone who is thinking about transitioning into education, I strongly suggest you get your feet wet, before diving in. How, you ask? You can substitute teach in your local school system. The process is pretty simple, and can be found by googling the school system in the county or city you live in. From there you can review the application requirements, which usually consists of a resume, some basic info, and proof of some college. Each school system is different, but in most cases you don’t even have to have a completed degree, just a minimum number of college hours/credits. Just so you know, you will have to submit a background check if hired. This real life experience is one of the best things I did before assuming a full time role in the classroom, because it gave me insight into the day to day profession.
So here are the top 10 things you need to know before becoming a Teacher:
In a world that is founded on cause and effect, and choices and consequences, I recently questioned if there is room for grace in the villages known as our schools. In every school and in every neighborhood, in every family and in every space that humans occupy, there is a child (or five) that struggle with impulse control, and in most cases, due to no fault of their own. There are scholars with all kinds of initials, acronyms, abbreviations, and labels assigned to them, and spaces designed and designated for just them. And at times, it seems that those initials, and accompanying behaviors are all that people are able to see.
As humans with our own goals, agendas, and desired outcomes, the hesitation to teach these children is understandable. However, as educators we have a responsibility to every child we touch, whether it’s in the hall, in the cafeteria, or in the classroom. It is our duty to not only educate the next generation, but equip them with the confidence, resilience, and the problem-solving capability to navigate the world beyond our school walls. In order to do this effectively, we need to operate in the gift of grace.
What exactly does that look like? It means not penalizing children for things that are beyond their control, but instead helping them to discover ways to channel their energy positively. It means giving them a clean slate every single, solitary time you encounter them. It means assuming the best, even if your last experience with them was the worst. It means giving them an opportunity to express themselves freely, and being a safe space for them. It means empowering them, encouraging them, and explaining to them the systems that they may not always fully understand versus using those systems to control them, and exert power over them. It means accepting them unconditionally, believing in their ability, and meeting them where they are developmentally.
Two of my scholars, who struggle with impulsivity have presented challenges to other teachers, and in my space they are successful a lot. They’re given an opportunity to figure out what works for them. They are able to be expressive. They are able to be creative, and they are able to be themselves. I do give them redirections, but I do it with clarity, love, and intentionality, because it’s what they need and it’s what they deserve. I have seen those same two scholars hanging in the halls from time to time, trying to escape whatever is going on in their classroom. It is my desire to create a space where scholars are not plotting to escape, but begging to stay. Because in that space, they are not villainized, penalized, or despised because they don’t fit into the idea a teacher may have of an ideal student. I want my space to be a place where they receive the gift of grace.
Author Tiffany Lezama