Just as We Feared: Black Students Face Racial Trauma as They Return School

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This September 3, 2021 photo, courtesy of San Diego NAACP via Twitter, shows a GUHSD School Resource Officer at Valhalla High School visibly using his knee to pin a student to the ground during a September 2, 2021 student altercation.

By K.H. Hamilton

While most students and families across the nation experienced worry or anxiety centered around COVID-19 and the Delta Variant spread (with its greatest impact on children under age 12 years), Black students and families worried about much more.

With the uncertainty of safe campus climates along with the rise of racial tensions centered around Ethnic Studies and Critical Race Theory, our concerns are becoming a reality as Black students all across America are returning back to school to racial harassment, discrimination and what some view as racial trauma.

Unfortunately, racial trauma continues to fester in schools throughout the state and the nation. Grossmont Union High School District is one such example. Last Tuesday, two students were engaged in an altercation during lunch. The fight was captured on video by multiple students and posted on social media, which can be seen here.

In an attempt to break up the fight, the school resource officer came in between the two students and pushed them both to separate ends of the lunchroom. What happened next is beyond comprehensible. The School Resource Officer (SRO) visibly placed his forearm on the Black female student’s neck to physically restrain her and then at some point, placed his knee on her neck. The photo, which we found on the NAACP San Diego Branch’s website, compares a young Black female student to George Floyd.

Francine Maxwell, the president of the NAACP San Diego Branch said the following in a statement: “Have we as a society learned nothing about excessive force? Are we still, after all this time, willing to allow reckless and dangerous amounts of force to be used by “peace” officers? Are we really ok with this level of force being used against children?

The trauma that is displayed as a grown man is using his weight and force to physically restrain the young woman, who is 14-years old, brings back fear of transgenerational trauma where Black women were raped by White men and no one did anything to stop it. Most importantly, the young woman who is seen hitting back appears to be exhibiting a type of trauma that is known as “fight” in response to this traumatic assault.

It is reported that both students live in a group home. Which brings us to the call of urgency that must no longer be overlooked, we need more trauma-informed counselors and full-time mental health staff who are culturally responsive and caring of Black children, period. Our students can no longer afford parttime contracted therapists and social workers on campus.

What was also not reported or widely circulated was how the Black SRO. or campus security officer, de-escalated the anxiety of the other girl who he also restrained within a reasonable amount of force and most importantly, humanely. He was able to calm her down to the point where another teacher came over and spoke to her. As a result, she was not arrested. As for the 14-year-old who was physically restrained, community activist Tasha Williamson stated she was handcuffed and taken away to Juvenile Hall. However, Ms. Williamson stated that Juvenile Hall will not confirm that fact, due to privacy and protection requirements.

According to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), Black students in the United States of America represent only 15% of total student enrollment yet make up 31% of all school arrests nationwide.

To put it into perspective, Black children and adolescents encounter trauma not just on the streets or, as some quickly point out, at home, but they also experience racial trauma at school. Moreover, the amount of physical and mechanical restraints that are used against Black students, in particular Black students with disabilities, are disproportionately higher than any other racial sub-group.

This is why we must go to the root of the cause: the lack of culturally responsive, caring and empathetic educators and staff who view Black students as human. School Districts’ hiring practices must change if we are to significantly reduce the number of racially traumatic school incidents that occur in our PK-12th grade education systems across the nation. We must hire more educators and staff like the Black SRO/campus security officer at Valhalla High School.

Ms. Williamson commented, “The fact that there are racial disparities with our students, how they are dealt with compared to other students is a problem. No one is going to have four SRO’s jump on a White Girl like that. An arrest should have never happened in this case, especially in a school district that claims it has restorative justice. We all fight for different things but all of these systems show that nothing has really changed. And they may not ever, I don’t know. The climate must change, the district must change the culture by hiring more counselors and providing intervention.”

GUHSD has a history of anti-Black racism and it’s no surprise that when it comes to suspensions and expulsions, the district leads the pact in San Diego County. Breanna Bell was a student in 2018 at Helix High when she was assaulted at school. Her case was settled, but was justice really served?

As for the SRO, he’s on paid administrative leave during the investigation. The current superintendent, Theresa Kemper, says she will be transparent.

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