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School Board Votes 4-1 To Allow Tasers Back on Campuses, With Vague Conditions

| October 5, 2011

Electrodes that puncture the skin to deliver Tasers' paralyzing jolt.

Kate Settle’s voice was on the verge of breaking almost the entire time she spoke to the Flagler County School Board Tuesday evening of her son, Hampton, a severely autistic student at Flagler Palm Coast High School, and of the fear she faces that one day Hampton would have an outburst, as autistic students do, and that a Taser would be used against him to control him.

“Several years ago I received a call from an SRO”–a school resource officer–“to me at my place of employment to inform me that Hampton’s teacher filed an incident report against my son, and the next time this happened,  he would be Baker-Acting Hampton. Hampton was thirteen,” Settle said. “My worry now is, could Hampton have been Tased if the SRO had the opportunity, or would the SRO be able to identify the outburst as being a manifestation the student’s disability, which is the same step necessary in order to employ the Baker Act?”

Settle concluded by citing H.L. Mencken’s phrase, that “for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple—and wrong. I believe for each student challenged with a disability, the simple answer is wrong. I believe for each student challenged with a disability, the simple solution is wrong. On behalf—” at that point Settle’s voice did break. She collected herself, apologized, and continued—“of Hampton and his peers who need your help, please take the time to explore more sensible options.”

The school board did not. After a 45-minute discussion, it voted  to allow the sheriff’s school deputies to carry Tasers again, reversing a verbal 2007 agreement that they would not do so. The motion made no distinctions about where Tasers may be used, including elementary schools, though there are no permanently posted deputies in elementary schools at the moment.

That agreement was reached on the heels of the tasing of an autistic student who was refusing to listen to a deputy’s command in a classroom that had been emptied of students and teachers. The student struck the officer. The officer Tased him, in an incident then-school superintendent Bill Delbrugge subsequently regretted.

On Aug. 29, a student at Matanzas High School was in a scuffle with another student. Cpl. Don Apperson, the school deputy assigned to Matanzas, and George Spitzer, a school employee, intervened. Both adults were injured as they subdued the student, who was expelled and now faces a felony charge for striking an officer.

Public Comments on tasers
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“I’m 6-2, 220 pounds, and I’m not afraid of much of anything,” Spitzer told the school board Monday evening, before Settle spoke.  “However this kid made me a little bit nervous, and officer Apperson had a bloody nose, split eye, over his eyebrow, and there was blood all over his face at the time that we got the kid under control. It seems that there is more and more incidences of individuals that are starting to have anger-management problems.”

Superintendent Janet Valentine had held a meeting with the sheriff and others pressing for the return of Tasers last month. When she was asked for her recommendation, she said: “The Flagler County Sheriff department has asked that we agree to allow the deputies assigned as the school resource officers to carry their Tasers. I trust that the sheriff’s deputies will use sound judgment in the discharge of their duties. We trust them every day coming into our schools and assisting us with the safety of all of our 13,000 students. I have faith in the sheriff’s department and its deputies and therefore recommend that we agree to that request.”

Board member Andy Dance made a motion to accept the recommendation, but with conditions. He was not comfortable with the black-and-white proposition of either going with Tasers or without. Nor did he accept the definition of schools as a mere extension of the outside world, where Tasers would be more likely fired on individuals regardless of age or special circumstances. “The school culture is a little different than the outside culture,” he said. He wanted Valentine to create a committee to evaluate how the limitations or training deputies would need to go to above and beyond what they receive at the sheriff’s office.

“Let’s give the authority to the superintendent to work with the sheriff’s office to come up with a list of criteria and the board can have input from the community so that we can give the superintendent some direction as to our comfort level,” Dance said.

“But your motion is for them to use them,” board member Colleen Conklin said of the use of Tasers.

Dance: “Yes.”

Conklin: “If I hear you right, you’re in favor of us allowing the officers to use the Tasers but the sheriff’s office needs to meet with Miss Valentine in order to set up the realm of policy.”

Dance: “Right, and during discussions I’d like for her to hear some of the concerns from the board, so she has direction on what’s important to us.”

Dickinson: “Keep in mind that there’s not going to be a lot of it that we’re going to be able to dictate, because the sheriff’s office if I understand already has a policy in place.”

David O’Brien, the under-sheriff, was at the meeting Tuesday and cautioned the board against confusing its policies with those of the sheriff’s office. He was not clear on Dance’s direction. “We would be willing to sit with the school superintendent and come up with a policy,” O’Brien said. “I understand what you’re saying Mr. Dance, I just, it’s very broad what you’re saying. We would be willing to work out an agreement with the superintendent and the board to do that.” But there was no clearer definition of what those steps would entail.

The board voted 4-1, with Conklin dissenting, in favor of Dance’s motion, whose conditional reach beyond the essential–that Tasers will be on campus from now on–remains vague.

Conklin had delivered an impassioned speech, several minutes long, against the re-introduction of Tasers. She cited from various sources to underscore the dangers Tasers represent, directly or indirectly.

Conklin on Tasers
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“In my mind, we will lose credibility in the eyes of some of our students, parents and community members,” Conklin said. “I recognize and say some, and understand that there are some that won’t agree with me, and that’s OK. There are too many questions in my mind left unanswered to decide now how this should be done. This is not and should not be a knee-jerk reaction to a very terrible situation. What happened to Cpl. Apperson is not acceptable, and should not be viewed as being acceptable, but a comprehensive, strategic plan needs to be developed to take a holistic approach to this issue if we truly want and desire to get to the heart of the problem and create safe campuses for our students. If that is truly what we want to do, then this school board, and I say this school board, needs to take responsibility for creating this environment.”

During the public comment period, just five people spoke (among them Settle and Spitzer), two of them for Tasers, three against, though support for Taser use in schools is likely greater than opposition.

“I’d like to thank the student for giving me a week off on pain killers, muscle relaxants and ice backs, for wrenching my back, to get him under control,” Spitzer had said sarcastically in his opening remark. “I’m sure you’ve all seen the video. If you were in that situation, could any of you have handled that student any better without a Taser? Ok, it’s easy to sit up there and say OK we shouldn’t use Tasers, but when you’re on the front line and you’re out there every day, police officers are trained, if they need more training give it to them or have the sheriff’s department give it to them, but let’s get the Tasers in the schools.”

Weldon Ryan, a former New York City police officer and forensic artist, responded with what he termed a rebuttal to Spitzer’s comments, rejecting the notion of schools as war zones. “I’m sorry that one child causes one person to change their mind to potentially injure and maybe even fatally kill another child. So to me the event of the other day was just unfortunate but it’s one of those things that happen from time to time, and it should not be put in such a category as this,” Ryan said.

Ryan spoke of his experience in some of New York’s  most dangerous precincts, including encounters with what he called EDPs—emotionally disturbed persons. “We had to deal with a lot of that. But you know a school is not the same environment as out in the street. Of course in the street we contained the situation and called ESU who then used the Tasers, basically the same thing as in school. The situation in the video, I did see, and quite honestly from a tactical standpoint there was nothing that Apperson could do. It was a wildcard situation that came about and he responded to it. In that situation there was no way on earth, as a former police officer, I can tell you that there was no way that he could have used his Taser if he had one, because it would have still been holstered and the melee would have continued.”

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21 Responses for “School Board Votes 4-1 To Allow Tasers Back on Campuses, With Vague Conditions”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    Inarticulation, confusion, and BS by the board has left this issue in a cloud of misunderstanding. I am not sure they even know what they decided. Looks like to me, the board tried to pass the whole thing back to the sheriff’s office.

  2. Heather Beaven says:

    50% of girls who are charged with a school offenses are African American. More than 50% of boys are African American and according to Florida Dept of Juvenile Justice, offenses “vary wildly by race in every county.”

    11,500 students are arrested on campus every year in Florida, prompting Florida Tax Watch to urge SRO’s to use civil citations. Thereby saving taxpayers up to $35 million per year.

    Southern Poverty Law Center has done solid research on school offenses in Florida as well.

  3. PCadiron says:

    I saw the footage of this event on the news last night. The officers definitely needed some sort of defense! There is a huge difference between a special needs child acting out and the criminal behavior in the video.

  4. thinkforyourself says:

    There is no way that Deputy could have deployed his taser as they were rolling around on the ground. He could have used his baton across the legs if he had the were with all but didn’t because he couldn’t. I’ve got family in law enforcement who have watched the clip multiple times – says the cop was caught off guard. It happens. You get hurt sometimes when your a cop. They are convinced a taser wouldn’t have changed a thing. The fact of the matter is that the last time a taser was used, it WAS used on a special needs child. That is a fact. You’re right there is a huge difference.

  5. Jackie Mulligan says:

    This is a very sad day for the children of Flagler County.

    I am glad I do not have a child in the school system, and I urge any mother who really understands what
    can happen when a child is hit with a Taser to really think long and hard about leaving a child in a school system that condones this type of action.It does not have to be the trouble maker who has the problem with being tasered, it can be an innocent bystander
    .And anyone who knows anything about children with special needs would never implement such a practice.

    Thank you Coleen Conklin for trying to talk sense into the rest of the board, and for your vote against.

    And thank you always Jim Guines for you thoughtful comments.

  6. ### says:

    The school board passed it to the sheriff because they don’t want to put up with the protesters. As in the past they took the easy way out.. Now they can wash their hands of the whole situation and AGAIN dump the problem which they are responsible for to someone else .. Very typical of this spineless board.. Who’s running the school system?? Apparently the sheriff.. The school board must be too busy trying to run the county…

  7. lolsillyboardmembers says:

    When you get in to any type of law enforcement, there is always risk. I’ve had security guards in my old highschool in New York. FPC and Matanzas do the same. I’ve watched officers restrain people, break up fights, and even defend themselves from the fight they just broke up. I’ve watched all of this…without a taser.

    Sorry Mr. Spitzer, but the potential for situations like these is EVERYWHERE in highschool. I’m sorry that you were hurt in the line of duty…but it’s your job. It’s expected. You’re turning schools into correctional facilities based on fear, and by approving the use of tasers, You’ve subjected every child’s safety to the choice of an officer and whether he feels he can (or is willing to) handle a situation without a taser.

    Suppose the next person raging out looks intimidating or big? If the officer thinks he can be overwhelmed, this seems to automatically grant the right to tase this person because it’s the “most efficient way of diffusing a situation.”

    The guidelines on the use of tasers doesn’t even exist yet. The board is willing to APPROVE the use, but they PASS THE BUCK back to the sheriff’s office. In doing so and giving them the duty to come up with these guidelines, they make the sheriff’s office liable.

    How about we try something new? How about the board takes their head out of their a$$, ignore whatever pressure is being put on them to approve this, retrain whoever needs to be retrained (The sheriff might have benefited from wrestling experience rather than complaining he couldn’t shield himself with a weapon.), and stop making stupid decisions. Sadly, I’m pretty sure this whole issue is going to get passed around, the guidelines will continue to remain vague, and no one from the board will be held accountable if something goes awry.

    You can bet that if tasers were already allowed and the officer used it, He’d be the first in line to get screwed.

  8. dontbesoparanoid says:

    lolsillyboardmembers says:
    “I’m sorry that you were hurt in the line of duty…but it’s your job. It’s expected.”

    Sad that you think cops are “expected” to get hurt. How about expecting people to act responsibly and to have respect for each other and offer something positive to society? Maybe if we expect more from some of our kids and hold them to it they will grow up productive.

    Getting hurt should not be “expected” but unfortunately it is a reality so it should also be “expected” that law enforcement would acquire tools that would help counter the odds of getting injured.

    Cops get killed as well…maybe that’s no big deal either since it should be “expected”. ??

  9. ### says:

    Jackie, Conklin is not part of the solution, she’s part of the problem..Spineless..

  10. Heather Beaven says: Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice.

  11. w.ryan says:

    The passion for which Colleen Conklin spoke was very apparent to were her heart is. She is for the children and for better schools. The rest of the board disappointed me greatly. To thread so lightly on the impact and potential damage to the sanctity of this learning environment by voting yes to handing over the reins of this weapon relinquishing responsibility to the Sheriffs office shows their mindset. They were heartless more than spineless with Colleen the exception! My bigger disappointment aside from the vote was Andy Dance who was so intent on dancing on the fence not wanting to make a firm decision on this issue. I thought he had more substance than that. Every law enforcement officer can tell you that the incident in question, which was unfortunate, should not have had the weight enough to bring this request to bear. A taser would not have been an option at all in this incident. My biggest disappointment was for the community who did not show up for this pivotal moment in Flagler school history. There were parents there to witness their children receive achievement certificates. But they left right after the awards were received. Was it lack of confidence in the School board that the community didn’t show? Was it the that most have a mindset as that of Mr. Settle or was it that they did not know? Flagler Schools are now liken to a correctional facility.

  12. Liana G says:

    No surprise here from this board/district. We definitely need gov’t out our schools. Thank you Ms Conklin. Maybe we should have the others volunteer to be tasered just so they can have a taste of what they voted for! Ms Dickinson, Mr Dance, Mr Tucker, Mr Fischer? Which one of you would like to go first? Now don’t trip over yourselves in your rush to get to the front of the line!

  13. Bill McGuire says:

    The saddest part of all, to me, is that we have to have armed police in our schools at all. And, when a teenaged student has no problem with assaulting a cop, what kind of a citizen is that student likely to be when away from school? The problem here, in my view, goes much deeper than what kind of weaponry should the officer carry.

  14. w.ryan says:

    Bill McGuire says: Hey Bill … this was one child! One child!

  15. Sympathetic Lady says:

    What can I say? We elect these people to do what is in the best interest of our children. The Flagler School Board’s job (the one we elected them to do) is to make clear rules and guidelines for all who work within the Flagler school system.

    On Tuesday the Board showed me that they do not have the authority to rule over contracted workers in our schools. Instead the people they contracted to work in our schools dictates the policies to the Board. With permission from their lawyer the Board (with the exception of Colleen Conklin) stepped aside and gave all the power to the Sheriff. They gave them power to use a deadly weapon on our children. Keep in mind an officer is more likely use his Taser than his mace or gun. Palm Coast residences, tell me in what situations do you fore see an officer using a Taser in our schools. Think about what the officer will have to do prior to using this deadly weapon. Yell out three warnings of “stop”? People think, the only justification for an additional weapon to SRO’s belts is an increase in the possession or use of deadly weapons by students in our schools. And if you really think about it, if the Sheriff is in charge of policy in our schools, then instead of sending our children to learn in an educational institution, we are sending them to learn in a penal institution.

    Why the rush to make this decision? Why didn’t the Board inform all parents and students in this county before making a decision?

  16. Bill McGuire says:

    W. Ryan: Okay, it was one child, I understand. But, to clarify my point, how is that po;ice are part of our school day? How did this happen and, more importantly, what would happen if the police weren’t there? Are they there because the teachers fear for their own safety, feel unable to handle discipline themselves or is it something else. This is a new scenario for me because, where I come from police do not come to a public school unless summoned for an emergency.

  17. w.ryan says:

    Mr. McGuire: I come from a school NYC and have attended violent schools. I did law enforcement in NYC. I have seen violent schools and have seen and been around violent kids (Bloods and Crips and neighborhood drug dealers) etc. I can tell you that our kids aren’t what they are portrayed to be. Politics and political ideology causes a lot of the misinformation. You need to see the stats ( since this is a numbers driven world) of what has happened in this county and of who is essentially targeted based on those stats. I’ve given back since I’ve been in Flagler through my time in PAL and other youth organization thru volunteerism. I’ve worked with Cpl.Apperson other SRO’s. Apperson and Deputy Cooper are very capable. But for one for two others I can’t see a taser in their hands. These kids are for the most part good kids. I have children in this school system. My son is now home schooled because of the the adults that run the schools. At one time he was suspended from school because he wasn’t being aware! The incident in question was a test paper he submitted which had been tampered with by another student. He was being pranked. Another student wrote “Fug you” on the top. He didn’t see this and he stated that but still had been suspended from school. My wife and I went to the dean and spoke up, They investigated. It wasn’t his handwriting (clearly) and someone who didn’t like him did this as a joke on him. They resolved the matter after he had served 2 days suspended. The deputy stated hat he should have been aware. He said this about a child that doesn’t function like others. Coincidentally he has a learning issues which was later diagnosed. He struggles to be organized. He is mellow child and is very respectful. Ask anyone. Why then throughout his school time spent in this school system was he constantly put in this situation with out a violent situation or a real cause to justify these options. There are other situations that came about that I won’t mention. Thank god I am able to stand up and represent him. My stance is not just for my children but for every child who’s parents don’t have the time to step in and make sure their child isn’t bullied by the biggest bully in the room. We may need law enforcement in high school. This is the opportunity that’s not being used to befriend children who may have some issues at home or about. Kids have no rights and some adults have dismissed them as dysfunctional. They are simply learning to be adult. Instead of force and a demonstration of power we can talk to these children and provide guidance and activities to meld there minds. They don’t all fit into that square peg or that round peg. I hope this passage is an insight to what I believe is going on and why I am an advocate for better alternatives.

  18. Bill McGuire says:

    Mr. Ryan: Your thoughts are well presented and appreciated, at least by me. I would be interested in your ideas for better alternatives. This is a common complaint that many parents have voiced in my presence and, again, these school situations are new to me and I would like to learn more. Thanks for presenting your experiences and thoughts. I’m still not sure, however, why we have a police presence in our schools.

  19. w.ryan says:

    I had mentioned i may agree with police in our high schools. The conditions for this should be as counselors and ambassadors for the law enforcement and adult community. I have seen through my own eyes that the tactics embraced by this zero tolerance in harmful. There is more of a pass the buck issue with less patience. Sit in at the deans office and video tape these encounters between the two parties. You will see the willfulness to enforce zero tolerance rather than to solve problems with our kids.
    This police in schools is in a less threatening non uniformed situation . Otherwise the only need for police would be in a law enforcement capacity which is where they are. The opportunity exist to set up mutual understanding between young adults and deputies as well as faculty responsible for discipline. There should always be a way to maintain dialog between the gap to establish a bridge. Flagler schools kids are perfect for such a thing. Put the money back into our children. There are host of ideas by many that can help our children in learning to be adults. The strong hand doesn’t work for everyone.

  20. when a civilized community has to resort to such devices to control our future leaders, we’ve not
    taught our children well.

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