At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) officials presented to members of the Shelby County Board of Education research on school disturbances, pepper spray use, and school safety officer training. The key findings showed:
- Methods used by MSCS school safety officers to stop on-campus disturbances align with the policies and practices of other school districts nationwide.
- Students involved in fights comprise less than 4% of MSCS’ student body, and to date, there have been 3,348 such disturbances – ranging from minor to moderate physical confrontations.
- In about 2% of those fights, school resource officers used pepper spray to end the disturbance.
- “Multiple studies have not shown any long-term detrimental effect to a single exposure of pepper spray,” according to a letter from the Memphis Fire Department Medical Director Dr. Joe Holley.
District officials also conducted focus groups with 141 participants – 29 students, 48 principals, 47 teachers, and 17 school security officers. Students had mixed responses when asked if they thought school resource officers should carry pepper spray, with some expressing concerns about bystanders not directly involved in the altercation feeling the impact of the aerosol spray.
Principals, teachers, and school security officers unanimously supported allowing the officers to carry pepper spray, calling it a safer method to break up fights than the batons and tasers other districts use. They also praised MSCS school resource officers for their protocol of giving a verbal warning before using pepper spray.
Participants in the focus groups asked for more funding for alternative schools, hall monitors, intervention specialists, and counselors. They also suggested mandatory mental health counseling for students involved in fights.
Carolyn Jackson, Chief of Safety and Security for MSCS, told the Board that the District’s school resource officers receive training on trauma-informed responses and adverse childhood experiences, which they use daily to de-escalate student-to-student conflict.
Board members requested that the District expand the size of the focus groups or survey pools to include parents and guardians. They agreed to further review the research and continue the conversation at a future committee meeting. MSCS is also continuing its efforts, and on Feb. 25 the District will bring together invited students, school resource officers, and a school counselor for a dialogue on improving school safety and building community that will air on C19TV and 88.5FM, the Voice of MSCS.