Let’s say, at some point in the future, another student decides to chase a fellow student with a knife/book bag/stick in the Laurens school district. Further, let’s say a third student videos the encounter on a cell phone. The video clearly shows what each student did. One of them broke the law and should be punished. The video taken by the student can help the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office make the correct arrest and charge and clear the case.
If student #3 (the videographer) provides the video to law enforcement, that student will be punished by the school district. That’s been the takeaway by District 55’s administration from all the ruckus at Laurens District 55 High School earlier this month.
As a general rule, this newspaper shies away from editorial comment on happenings in our sister school district in Laurens. We don’t cover District 55 schools and we don’t cover the district’s board of trustees, so we leave the commentary to those better informed.
But this latest news has us baffled.
We are quick to say we understand what the district has announced is that it will begin enforcing a policy already on the books. Students are prohibited from recording any student or staff member at a school-related activity without prior notice and written consent.
In a statement last week, the district said all students at the high school have already signed that they acknowledge and understand the policy and they intend to comply with it.
“Failure to abide by the policy does subject the student to appropriate school consequences,” the statement said.
District 56 has a similar policy outlawing the “unauthorized” use of a cell phone to record without permission. First offense can result in the phone being confiscated and/or a warning.
In a week’s time, there were at least three fights (including one minor stabbing) at Laurens District High School that were videoed and posted to social media.
As would be expected, the videos caused widespread rumors, inaccurate information, fear and embarrassment – but all of it began with incidents that actually happened and were captured by cell phone cameras. Some have said district administrators didn’t deal with parents in a straightforward manner until the videos surfaced. That may be why the district has decided the most important takeaway is to start enforcing a policy that was deemed unimportant on Feb. 7, the day before the chase and stabbing was captured on camera.
There are reasonable explanations for having such a policy in schools. Students could certainly use video as a way to cyberbully. Students could video innocent actions in a distasteful or embarrassing way. We get it.
But the overreaction by district administrators was beyond the pale.
Punish the students who are fighting and disrupting the education of their fellow students in any way. But don’t make blanket declarations that can make it more difficult for you to deal with these matters in the future.
Threatening punishment to anyone who videos a fight is not going to stop the fight. And it likely won’t stop the videos.