Virginia students disproportionately arrested in schools

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates killed a bill aimed at lowering the number of Virginia students referred to law enforcement in a 36-60-1 vote last week.

Bill patron Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudon, said the proposed legislation was a reaction to the alarming rate of students who end up charged with criminal offenses in Virginia.

According to a study by the Center for Public Integrity, 16 per 1,000 students are arrested in Virginia in school for disorderly conduct, whereas the national average is six per 1,000 students.

HB 1134 would have prevented students younger than 14-years-old from being criminally charged for disorderly conduct while in school. Virginia currently leads the nation in the number of student arrests for disorderly conduct, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

“We simply are reaching a crisis here that has certainly human cost as well as financial consequences,” LaRock said. “Our prisons are full and we have a lot of people getting started in the criminal justice system at a very early age for relatively minor offense.”

According to LaRock, the reason why discipline is a problem for Virginia schools is due to the long list of potential violations, in addition to strict regulations for how each case is handled.

“Such a long list of incidents are requiring principals to report just about any incident that can be construed to be disruptive or potentially a violation of the law,” LaRock said.

LaRock also patroned HB 1132 with House Speaker William J Howell, R-Fredericksburg, and Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. HB 1132 would remove requirements that force principals to refer students to law enforcement.

“That bill was referred to the courts where the chances are it will never see the light of day again,” LaRock said. “The people who opposed it are afraid to make any sort of adjustments to the law that applies to school when some teachers are saying we are in crisis mode, and if you take away a lot of the tools, things will get worse.”

Last April, Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed a cabinet level task force to find solutions to Virginia’s school-to-prison pipeline. Despite the lack of support in the legislature, Secretary of Education Anne Holton said the administration is dedicated to reducing student arrests.

“The Governor and I remain committed to addressing the critical issue of school discipline in the Commonwealth.” Holton said. “That is why the Governor launched the ‘Classrooms not Courtroom’ initiative, which seeks to reduce school suspensions and expulsions, referrals to law enforcement and the disparate impact these practices have on minority students and students with disabilities.”

The Governor’s initiative seeks additional funding for behavior programs in schools with high rates of disciplinary offenses.

“By working together, we can improve school safety, enhance learning time and ensure fair treatment for all of our students,” Holton said.

Staff Writer, Andrew Crider

Andrew Crider, photo by Brooke MarshAndrew is a junior economics major who has written for student newspapers since he was in high school. Andrew is interested in political history, aviation, photography and running. He has a tendency to refer to his peers, coworkers and bosses as “ma’am” or “sir,” but is getting better about referring to his friends at the CT by their first names instead. // Facebook

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