MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The death of Tyre Nichols has prompted organizations to take a look at how they handle altercations– including Memphis Shelby County Schools.
A study conducted by the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Office of Governmental Affairs and Compliance reveals since the start of the school year, there have been more than 3,300 fights involving students across the district.
According to reports given at Tuesday night’s board committee meeting, 145 of the fights were gang-related, and 117 of them were groups of people fighting.
James Lewis says his 16-year-old son has been jumped twice this school year at Westwood High School.
“What if he, later on down the line, feels like, ‘Oh, let me go jump off the bridge or something?’ I don’t want my son to feel like this. He shouldn’t have to be in fear trying to go to school to get an education,” said Lewis.
A study shows the district uses two methods to break up fights– hands-on tactics and pepper spray. Out of the more than 3,000 fights, pepper spray was used as a last resort 75 times in 29 schools.
A survey involving students, principals, teachers, and school resource officers shows out of 29 students surveyed, 11 say pepper spray should be used and 18 say it shouldn’t. All 112 staff members supported the district’s use of pepper spray.
“Sometimes you have to use force on these young kids because they don’t understand their actions,” Lewis said.
The school board also got input from the Memphis Fire Department’s EMS Medical Director on the use of pepper spray. He said in part, “Multiple studies have not shown any long-term detrimental effects to a single exposure.”
Lewis says he believes the schools are doing the best they can, but he says true change starts at home. “We need to find some type of solution. Some type of system or something to try to help these young kids because they’re going down the wrong path.”
Since using pepper spray is a last resort to break up fights, the district has several policies in place controlling when pepper spray can be used. Resource officers must try to de-escalate the situation, consider their surroundings and call an ambulance if they use pepper spray.
If pepper spray is used, SROs must call emergency aid immediately and notify school administrators.
“We are actively reviewing the recent findings on pepper spray utilization in our schools and will continue to seek solutions in the best interest of student and staff safety,” said MSCS Board Chair Althea Greene.