To Protect and Serve

Amid controversy, Raegan Loughrey examines the issue of a police presence in school.

To Protect and Serve

The issue of excessive police force has been a hot topic in the media lately. In many cases, it is often hard to determine whether or not the action on the part of officer is justified.

It’s true that if we take away too much power from the police officers we are giving criminals the opportunity to run amuck. However, while restraining a six foot tall man with a deadly weapon is justifiable, ripping a teenage female student from her chair and then proceeding to drag her from the classroom is an entirely different issue.

When working with high school students, officers should be as reluctant to use physical force as possible; violence should only be used by the officer when he or she fears for his or her own life or the life of others around them. A recent incident occurred at Spring Valley high school where an officer flung a young student from her desk. The video of this incident (below) flooded  social media for several days following the incident. In the video, the young lady seems to be showing no sign of resistance and has no visible weapons. Debates over whether or not the officer had the authority to use such force circled the media and broke out all around the United States.


The Herald went to Lori Vaillancourt, one of Holyoke high school’s vice principals and someone responsible for student safety daily, to ask her opinion on the Spring Valley incident. She told The Herald that she “does not believe the situation was handled appropriately.” Mrs. Vaillancourt believes there were many interventions and strategies that were missed.

“For instance, if the student had a close relationship with a teacher or counselor she could have come to the classroom to escort the student out to a private setting,” Mrs. Vaillancourt explains. “Furthermore, no one was in imminent danger of being hurt, therefore the situation could have been handled at the end of the class period when all parties had a chance to de-escalate and come up with a plan.”

Mrs. Valliancourt thinks it’s a necessity for students and educators to build positive relationships and have adequate training in non-violent de-escalation.

All Holyoke High students have RIGHTS - an acronym created by the Restorative Justice Youth Group
All Holyoke High students have RIGHTS

Mrs. Vaillancourt believes in the Holyoke High core values, a group of shared values for governing student and staff interaction that were drafted over the summer by students. The HHS core values are Respect, Integrity, Generosity, Humility, Trust, and Strength – or R.I.G.H.T.S – and if all staff and students abide by the Knights R.I.G.H.T.S, incidents like the one at Spring Valley High can be prevented.

Ironically, the officer’s job at Spring Valley High was to keep students safe, yet he harmed one of the very kids he was supposed to be protecting. It’s hard to tell by the video, but the girl appears to be doing nothing more than maybe giving attitude or refusing to stand. Not respectful, but hardly deserving of a violent approach from an officer.

Yes, everyone should always obey a trained police officer and the girl was not right in the situation, however there is never an excuse to use such force on a student who poses no physical threat to anyone.

Officer Manny Rivera, our School Resources Officer (or SRO) at Holyoke High School, also believes this situation was handled inappropriately; he feels the officer did not need to intervene at all in this instance.

Officer Rivera stated that he does not condone this officer’s behavior whatsoever. When asked what he would do in this circumstance, he explained that he would let the administrative staff handle it and only intervene if an actual law was broken.

The job of police in schools is not to handle everyday disciplinary action but to protect the students. An officer’s job is to uphold the law, they are not administrators or teachers employed by the school system. Their role is not to punish students, their role is to be there to help incase teachers or other administrators need their assistance.

Officer Rivera explained that he believes having police in schools is important because they can provide a program of educational leadership to students, parents, and staff regarding serious issues like drugs, gang activity, violence diffusion strategies, violence prevention, crime prevention and general safety issues in the school. He also feels a big role for SROs is to refer students and their families to the appropriate agencies for assistance when a needed.

Officer Manny Rivera, Holyoke High's School Resource Officer.
Officer Manny Rivera, Holyoke High’s School Resource Officer.

There are those who believe that police in schools are completely unnecessary, and in fact should be removed entirely. Kids often resent the officers that intervene in fights and other altercations, and some argue the presence of police makes the school feel less warm and inviting and turns it into prison-like setting.

But how can we say we don’t need these officers in our school considering how many threats schools in this area have faced this year alone? It seems like every week the news reports a school being evacuated because of a threat of some type or another. Most of those weren’t actually credible, but are people will to take that chance? If there ever was a serious incident, a police presence could save lives.

Incidents like the one at Spring Valley give officers a bad name, however the sole purpose of these men and women are to keep us safe. I believe the majority of people in law enforcement have our well-being in mind, unfortunately those aren’t the ones we hear about because it isn’t headline grabbing.

The Herald would like to thank both Vice Principal Lori Vaillancourt and HHS SRO Officer Manny Rivera for contributing to this article on a controversial topic. The Herald welcomes your thoughts on this hot-button issue. You can e-mail us at or reach out to us at our various social media outlets.