Pepper Spray at School: From Lawsuits to Hospitalizations

Updated  June 06, 2017 |
Pepper Spray at School: From Lawsuits to Hospitalizations
A rash of pepper spray incidents at public schools have resulted in hospitalizations, lawsuits, and many tears. Learn about pepper spray prevalence, from being used to discipline students to a self-defense measure against bullies.
Pepper spray is a common product used both for self defense for civilians and by members of law enforcement. More recently, the chemical has been used in schools, both by staff and students, as a mode of discipline and self protection. While some students and school officials believe the use of pepper spray is warranted in some situations, many other students and their parents are voicing concern about dangerous chemicals used on students without good judgment. To help you make your own decision, we'll analyze a few of the pepper spray cases that have recently come to light in school districts across the country.
 

Birmingham Schools Using Pepper Spray as Disciplinary Measure

School resource officials in Birmingham public schools have been using the pepper spray they are given to provide discipline in a host of situations. In fact, the use of pepper spray has become prevalent enough to prompt a civil rights group to protest its use. According to a report at al.com, the Southern Poverty Law Center has demanded that school resource officers in Birmingham city schools refrain from using the chemical spray on students who are fighting, talking or otherwise disrupting school activity.

In a letter written to Birmingham board attorney Afrika Parchman, the group states, "The use of such weapons against school children is a clear and egregious violation of students' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Moreover, the use of chemical weapons on school children is detrimental to their health and psychological well-being."
 
Dexter Cunningham, president of Birmingham's Fraternal Order of Police, said all the tools carried by officers in schools are used for defensive purposes, not offensive reasons. Cunningham told al.com, "Everything they carry is defensive in nature for, first and foremost, protection of life. Why not just pull police officers out of schools? At any school, whether it's Birmingham or over the mountain, would parents rather have police officers in the schools or not in the schools?"
 
Students Sent to Hospital after Pepper Spray Used in St. Louis
 
Security guards at schools in St. Louis schools also carry pepper spray as a part of their regular uniform. During a large fight at Confluence Preparatory Academy Charter High School in the city, pepper spray was used to break up the melee, sending a number of students to the hospital for treatment. According to STLToday.com, the fight erupted between as many as a dozen male students at the school. As a result of the measure, more than 12 students were sent to area hospitals to be treated for pepper spray exposure.
 
A spokesman for Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, where many of the students were treated, told the news website, "We'll be doing some eye irrigation. Everyone will be going home." However, some are concerned about the issues at the school and are considering pulling their students out. Belinda Newman, a grandmother of one of the students that was treated, told STLToday.com, "I'm afraid it's going to get worse. My granddaughter said that when they were loading them up to go to the hospital someone said, 'It's not over with.'"
 
Student Uses Pepper Spray on School Bus in Kentucky
 
While parents and students are concerned about the use of pepper spray by school officials, others are taking matters into their own hands. In Kentucky, a number of students on a school bus had to be treated for pepper spray exposure after one student doused another during an argument. WLKY.com reports that the school bus driver was on the freeway when the incident occurred and promptly pulled the bus over to deal with the situation.
 
Eleven students on the bus were taken to area hospitals for treatment. Angela Haynes, the mother of the girl who was the target of the attack, told WLKY, "The little girl just shook up the pepper spray can and just started spraying it all in the front of the bus." A number of parents have said that they will be pressing charges against the student – and the adult who bought her the pepper spray in the first place.
 
Bullying Answered with Pepper Spray in Texas
 
One teen girl in Texas who had been the victim of frequent bullying at school packed a can of pepper spray with her to school one day. She got the can from her mother, who was concerned about the threats her daughter had received from other students on a daily basis. She said she took the problem to school administrators, but nothing was done about the situation. The next logical step, according to this parent, was to arm her daughter to defend herself in the event of a real altercation.
 
"I know it was wrong but I had to do what I had to do." Betty Duvall told KHOU. "If she wouldn't have had that protection, she probably would have been in the hospital right now," Duvall added. Her daughter took the can of pepper spray to school and used it on the bullies when one of them punched her in the face during a fire drill. All four teens involved in the incident faced an initial suspension, but Duvall's daughter was also told she would have to attend an alternative school for the rest of the year.
 
Pepper spray and mace are banned on many school campuses today and the incidents above provide a legitimate example of why. On the other hand, when it comes to self defense and protection, there are few products more effective. It appears the debate on when and where pepper spray is to be used is far from over.

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