Virginia lawmakers need to overhaul state policies that determine how public school systems handle student discipline, a report released Wednesday by staff of the Legal Aid Justice Center concludes.
The report calls for greater state oversight of training for school resource or security officers, more thorough data collection of law enforcement referrals and the elimination of disorderly conduct charges for students who misbehave, among other recommendations.
Retooling the policies could limit the disparities among school divisions in referral rates of African-American students and students with disabilities to police, says Jason Langberg, an attorney for Legal Aid’s JustChildren program and co-author of the report.
“Whether or not a child who displays minor misbehavior in school ends up serving in detention or serving time in jail shouldn’t depend on where the kid lives,” Langberg says. “That’s sort of how it is now, because localities are allowed to determine their own policies and practice with full discretion.”
The report comes amid a national debate around school discipline, or, as some advocates refer to it, the school-to-prison pipeline. That discussion looms large in Virginia. Last spring, a Center for Public Integrity report revealed the commonwealth had the highest rate in the country of referring students to the criminal justice system.
In December, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that his biennial budget includes funding for a “Classrooms not Courtrooms” initiative, intended to decrease suspensions, expulsions and police referrals statewide. The General Assembly convenes Wednesday, Jan. 13.