Disturbing Schools

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


After two South Carolina teenage girls are arrested by a popular police officer in their high school classroom, controversial cell-phone videos of the incident go viral. Pandora's box bursts open as debates swirl around race, gender, and a mysterious law named “Disturbing Schools” which impacts thousands of kids every year. A life-changing ripple effect emerges from a single explosive day.


It was a Monday morning in Columbia, South Carolina, and a scene was about to unfold at Spring Valley High School which would shock the nation.

In the middle of math class, Deputy Ben Fields is called to remove 16-year-old Shakara Murphy from her desk. As the police officer walked in the door, 18-year-old Niya Kenny urged her classmates to take out their phones. The resulting videos, which quickly went viral, show the officer pulling the student from her seat and throwing her to the ground. While the rest of the class watched in stunned silence, Niya jumped out of her seat, yelling at the officer.

Both girls are handcuffed, arrested and charged with the crime of “Disturbing Schools,” a misdemeanor in South Carolina which outlaws acting in “an obnoxious manner” at school or disturbing students or teachers in any way. This brief incident was seen by millions on social media, dissected on CNN and The View, tweeted about by Hillary Clinton and others. Our story starts with that explosive classroom altercation, then dives much deeper into what happened before and after “the incident at Spring Valley.”

Niya Kenny becomes the lead plaintiff in an ACLU case (Kenny v. Wilson) to declare “Disturbing Schools” unconstitutional, and leaves her family and her hometown for an internship in New York City. Shakara is pulled out of high school and struggles with ongoing legal and family issues back in South Carolina. Ben Fields is promptly fired from his position as a school resource officer, though his conduct is cleared by an extensive FBI investigation. 

Meanwhile, a determined activist named Vivian Anderson turns her life upside down and moves from New York to South Carolina a week after the incident to find the girls who were arrested. Out of an instinct to turn trauma into change, she works to protect every vulnerable child, tear down the "Disturbing Schools" law, and build something new and beautiful for the girls and maybe even herself. 

Through these personal journeys, we explore law enforcement in schools, the complex racial history of a southern city and the deep ripple effect of a searing national event.



The film uses a shocking viral video as a starting point to go deep into the larger cultural issue at hand, through the intimate and personal stories of those impacted. We travel forward and backward from this inciting experience to understand the factors behind the incident and the ripple effect from that moment. We interview key participants connected to the story, with verite filmmaking as our top priority, experiencing the realities and challenges as they happen along with the characters.


Garrett Zevgetis - Director
Garrett Zevgetis is a Boston-based documentary filmmaker focusing on fascinating people and social change. His feature documentary BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS had its World Premiere at SXSW in 2016, was released theatrically by First Run Features and selected as a New York Times Critics’ Pick, and was broadcast by PBS’ Independent Lens and Netflix. Garrett grew up in Kissimmee, Florida, served in the U.S. Navy during Desert Storm, and earned an MFA in Media Art from Emerson College. He has directed several short films, including “A Mercenary Tale” which premiered at the Boston International Film Festival and was distributed worldwide by Ouat Media. Garrett has also worked at PBS’ FRONTLINE, at WGBH under acclaimed producer Judith Vecchione, and as a producer for the nationally syndicated public radio program, “Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon.” He was named one of 10 Filmmakers To Watch by The Independent Magazine.

Ariana Garfinkel - Producer
Ariana Garfinkel is an independent film producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through her production company Carriage House Pictures, Ariana most recently produced the feature documentary BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS, which premiered at SXSW in 2016. The film was released theatrically by First Run Features, named a NY Times Critics’ Pick, and received a national broadcast on the acclaimed PBS series “Independent Lens.” She previously produced the award-winning feature documentary BOYS OF SUMMER, distributed by Tribeca Film and broadcast by ESPN, PBS and Sundance Global. Ariana has worked with director Lily Baldwin since 2010, producing two of her narrative shorts, SEA MEADOW (SXSW World Premiere) and A JUICE BOX AFTERNOON (Lincoln Center Premiere), along with developing her upcoming feature, GLASS. Other past projects include the documentaries NUNS ON THE BUS, SYMPHONY OF THE SOIL, SONATAS OF THE SOIL, WRENCHED, and TRUMBO. Previously, Ariana held development and production positions in New York City for ten years at companies including Miramax Films, Tribeca Productions and Reno Productions. She started her career on location for HBO Films and Columbia Pictures, and graduated from Stanford University. She is a FilmHouse Resident at SFFILM.

Jeff Consiglio - Executive Producer
Jeff Consiglio has worked as a director, producer, editor and creative consultant on films for over 30 years. Jeff edited the Academy Award Winning documentary film INOCENTE (Best Documentary Short Subject, 2013) and earned his first Oscar nomination for the feature documentary WAR/DANCE in 2008, which also won Best Directing at Sundance and an Emmy Award. He was a Producer and Editor on BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS, and the upcoming feature documentary OUT OF STATE. For HBO, Jeff edited LIFE ACCORDING TO SAM, which premiered at Sundance, received a 2014 Peabody Award and was shortlisted for the Academy Awards. He produced and edited the feature documentary TWINSTERS, which premiered at SXSW in 2015 and won the Special Jury award for Editing.

Christopher Lewis Dawkins - Director of Photography

Christopher Lewis Dawkins is a visual artist and filmmaker from Rockaway Beach, NY. His love for people informs his lens as he delves into the complexities of human relationships and identity. He aims to shine a light on the beautiful things we often ignore. Christopher is based in New York City where he splits his time working on music videos, short films, photography and video art. He graduated from Emerson College in Film Production, and directed the short film LOVED LIKE THIS (Urbanworld Film Festival 2016, Young Filmmaker Award Finalist).  


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IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2018
LEF Moving Image Fund Pre-Production Grant 2017
LEF Moving Image Fund Production Grant 2018


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