Suspensions, expulsions, and juvenile arrests at school led to students having criminal records and constructed a school-to-prison pipeline. Two new laws will aid the criminal defense of juvenile offenders by eliminating criminal punishments in Virginia’s elementary, middle, and secondary schools.
Under Senate Bill 3, students may not be charged with disorderly conduct during school, on buses or at school-sponsored events. The second law, SB 729, eliminates the requirement that school principals report student acts that would constitute a criminal misdemeanor to law enforcement authorities. Assault on school property, a bus or school sponsored event, for example, would have been misdemeanor requiring a report before this new law.
The Virginia General Assembly approved the measures earlier in 2020 and they were to take effect in July. However, the laws have not been widely applied because of the pandemic.
The legislature also passed another related measure. School resource officers are no longer required to enforce school board rules and student conduct codes as a condition of employment.
Suspension and expulsion are imposed disproportionally against students of color and students with disabilities according to the U.S. Department of Education. Those punishments and arrests at school lead to a criminal record and led to the school-to-prison pipeline, according to the NAACP.
Virginia led the country by having almost three times the rate of student referrals to law enforcement, according to data released by the Center for Public integrity in 2015. The bills’ sponsor, Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), said that this data influenced her introduction of these measures.
Richmond City Public Schools was the second highest school district with suspensions in Virginia by imposing 19,768 suspensions. The majority of students in that district are Black.
Fixing unclear laws
The bills were intended to address the repercussions of certain disorderly conduct charges which has unclear criteria. In many cases, mere disruptive behavior was prosecuted as disorderly conduct.
For example, a student on a school bus in Henrico County was charged with singing a rap song. Another student in Lynchburg was charged for kicking a trash can while being sent to the principal’s office.
One expert said that youthful mistakes coupled with trauma, violence and poverty later develop addictions or result in incarceration in a juvenile detention center or jail. Except for incidents involving weapons, school misbehavior should be addressed by school officials and not by law enforcement.
A juvenile or student charged with a criminal offense may face long-lasting consequences. An attorney can help them defend their rights in legal proceedings.