National education advocate Otha Thornton: Educating and policing our children

Otha Thornton, National Education Advocate and former President of National OTA (Photo Source: Otha Thornton)
Otha Thornton, National Education Advocate and former President of National PTA (Photo Source: Otha Thornton)

In June 2015, Otha Thornton finished his term as the first Black man to head the National PTA. He put forth programs to improve parent-teacher interactions and to get fathers more involved in their children’s academic life. With the recent outrage over a black female student brutalized by a school resource officer in South Carolina, we asked Thornton for his take on the incident as a national education advocate.

What are your thoughts on the Spring Valley High School incident?
These daily occurrences of our children experiencing this physical, mental, and emotional violence in our schools around the country are heartbreaking. Children are our nation’s most precious resource. They make up 25 percent of our nation, but 100 percent of our future. It is easy to give commentary on what should have happened; however, we must also be mindful of the challenges that our educators and law enforcement officials deal with everyday in classrooms around our nation. Educators and school resource officers deal with millions of children that come to school on a daily basis that are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and/or physically broken. In some cases, these children do not have the models of respect and discipline for authority based upon their life experiences. The safety of every student and classroom management is paramount in every way. However, in this particular case, did the child not respond due to grief or other emotional issues? From reports, the student was also a foster child that is experiencing a very troubling time in her life right now. Still, there is no excuse for the violence against a child. As a nation and with our ongoing education reform, we need to double down on focusing on the whole child in our schools. Although extremely challenging, the mental, physical, and emotional needs have to be managed and addressed to ensure that all of our children succeed.

Is there a growing problem with policing Black students in school?
It is not a growing problem; it is a historical and systemic problem in minority communities. Particularly in the South, where the deeply ingrained historic identity, culture, and practices of law enforcement were intended to patrol and control the minority populations rather than to protect and serve.

What should be the role of a school resource officer?
The role of the school resource officer is to protect and serve.  The administrators should have handled this matter and if the child refused to comply, the parents should have been contacted to come get the child.

 What three things should parents do if their child is displaying anti-social behavior in school?
Parents should first accept and own the responsibility for their child’s education. This is not a reality and as a nation, we must continue to encourage and push for parents to own this responsibility. Education, respect and discipline are taught in the home. Unfortunately, all homes are not equal and will never be. Parental responsibility should be the first line of support, but where responsibility is not taken, we need caregivers, aunts, uncles, and others to assist.  The American public school is one of the cornerstones of every community that can make a difference in assisting the village in raising our children.

Why is joining and participating in the local PTA important for parents?
The only comment that I have on this is that, parents must be involved in their children’s education process.

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