Some Virginia parents feared new legislation could lead to increased student referrals to police | News
The Virginia General Assembly passed a law that will allow school principals to report certain offenses committed by students to law enforcement, reversing parts of a previous law.
Lawmakers, parents and advocates fear the legislation will lead to over-reporting of minor infractions to law enforcement instead of leaving whistleblowing to the discretion of school officials.
Symone Walker is a mother of two children, one of whom is enrolled in Arlington Public Schools. She is also co-chair of the NAACP Arlington Education Committee and vice-chair of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee.
Walker worries that Virginia isn’t working fast enough to close the school-to-jail pipeline — tough disciplinary actions that data shows push mostly black and Latino students out of schools and into jails and jails.
“The General Assembly has made progress in overturning some really punitive laws that were contributing to the school-to-jail pipeline,” Walker said.
Previous Legislation to Cancel the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Virginia made the headlines with reports that it led the country to refer students to law enforcement and sparked legislative action in 2020.
State lawmakers passed a law that school officials did not have to report minor infractions — such as disruptive behavior, disorderly conduct, and trespassing — to law enforcement. They still had to report the crimes.
Legislators also adopted an invoice in 2020 which exempted students from being charged under state law with disorderly conduct — a phrase advocates say is loosely interpreted in the expulsion process — if it happened on school property , on a school bus or at a school event.
Walker fears that Senate Bill 36, introduced by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, along with other bills, could set back progress in 2020. The measure is identical to a House bill. The General Assembly recently passed both measures with bipartisan support in both houses.
Norment told a Senate committee hearing that his bill was designed only to add better structure to what was a bipartisan bill when it passed in 2020. He pushed back against committee efforts Senate to adopt it indefinitely.
Senator Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, opposed the bill. “I care about the school-to-prison pipeline and what it does is open it up again,” Locke said. “Those who are going to be reported are mostly black and brown children.”
A substitute was adopted and then advanced.
Norment, however, celebrated the legislative victory in a constituent bulletin Friday by saying principals will be required to report misdemeanors.
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, who introduced the 2020 bill easing reporting requirements, released a statement to Capital News Service that Virginia is in better shape than it was seven years ago, “and that we must continue our progress in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.
“It’s disappointing to see the legislature vote to reverse some of that progress by making it mandatory to report certain incidents that are technically crimes to law enforcement, deciding whether or not to report parents of children involved in the incident,” McClellan said.
Principals will be required to report to law enforcement certain offenses that were eliminated in 2020, such as stalking, written and oral threats and other offences.
But the amended version allows a school board to create an alternative disciplinary process for students involved in assaults without bodily harm. If there is acceptable mediation between the parties, the incident does not have to be reported to the police.
This alternative process is an option for school boards to implement, not a requirement.
According to the bill, school officials can choose to report written threats made by students with Individual Education Plans — students with disabilities who need special education. Several lawmakers had expressed concern that the bill could disproportionately affect students with disabilities.
Walker said it’s unfortunate that black and Latino students and students with disabilities come into contact with law enforcement more often.
“Arlington is a microcosm of the state as a whole — where you have a disproportionate number of black and brown students who end up being disciplined at a higher rate than their white counterparts,” Walker said.
A reference to law enforcement includes all contact students have with officers, including arrests, citations, tickets, and referrals to court, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
According to Arlington Public Schools.
School Resource Officers
Walker is also concerned about the desire to have more school resource officers in schools across the state.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin pledged during his campaign to send police to every school, a move currently made by locals School districts.
The house is gone House Bill 873, presented by Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach, along for a party vote. The bill originally required school districts to place a school resource officer — law enforcement officers stationed in public schools — in each elementary and secondary school. If a district did not comply with the legislation, it would not receive a state grant, according to the tax return.
The Senate Finance Committee has flagged a replacement version remove the requirement to have a resource officer in each school. Instead, a designated enforcement officer will be trained and serve as a liaison for the school administrator in schools without a resource officer.
The Democratic-led Senate denied a similar statement invoice, moved by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach.
Virginia’s high student recommendation rate
Ethan Lynne, a student at Patrick Henry High School in Hanover and a member of the Virginia Teen Democrats, said he was nervous for his peers who might not be favored by the administration. He fears the bill could contribute to reported racial disparities in schools.
“It can easily change the rest of their lives forever,” Lynne said.
Virginia students were referred to law enforcement nearly three times the national average, with a referral rate of 16 per 1,000 students, according to a 2015 report from the Center for Public Integrity. The organization focuses on survey reports on inequality and analyzed data from the US Department of Education for its report.
LaSontra Anderson said she spends her days caring for patients, her husband and three daughters. two still attend Virginia public schools. Her daughter Michel has cerebral palsy. Anderson said she had to stay on top of things or Michel would fall into the “pipeline.”
“If we’re not his advocates, no one else will be,” Anderson said.
Anderson worries that black students and students with disabilities are still being disproportionately referred to administrators and law enforcement. Some educators and administrators aren’t knowledgeable about disabilities, according to Anderson.
Students with disabilities were referred to law enforcement more than twice as often as their Virginia counterparts, or about 30 out of 1,000 students. Black students were referred twice as often as all students, or about 25 students out of 1,000, according to the Center report.
“You strip them of everything that is looking forward to their future,” the mother said.
Angela Dews is a special education teacher at Armstrong High School in Richmond and past president of the Richmond Education Association.
The administration should have support, not mandates on how to manage students, Dews said of the measure requiring more reporting. Dews is concerned that administrators at Armstrong High School may be obligated to report incidents to police that could be handled within the school’s policies and codes of conduct.
“School is meant to be a safe haven for our kids and you want kids to come to school and feel safe and not feel like they’re in their neighborhood,” Dews said. “Children need to know that they are safe with us and that the principals, the administrations run this school, and that we are there for them and manage their discipline.”
Capital News Service is a program of the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.