Study: Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute is disproportionately applied to black students

Study: Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute is disproportionately applied to black students
According to LAJC, 62% of school-based disorderly conduct complaints in Virginia fall on black students. However, the group only makes about 22% of the school population. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A new report is calling for a partial repeal of a Virginia law. The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) says a portion of the disorderly conduct code is unfairly used to single out black students in public schools.

According to LAJC, 62% of school-based disorderly conduct complaints in Virginia fall on black students. However, the group only makes about 22% of the school population.

"It's a real cause for concern. We see similar disproportionately in our school discipline data - suspensions and expulsion - but when we get to disorderly conduct we're talking about arrest," said Amy Woolard, Legal Aid Justice Center.

Woolard is the author of the report Decriminalizing Childhood, which looked at a portion of the state's disorderly conduct law and how it's used by school resource officers in public schools starting in 2016.

"We're seeing black students being shuttled into the court system for what's really normal childhood behavior," she said.

Data from 16 district courts -- which includes Albemarle, Greene, Madison and Fluvanna counties, as well as Charlottesville - reveal the area is in the middle of the pack.

"Which means we still have a lot of work to do. We're sort of not bringing up the rear in the state. That's a positive," Woolard explained.

The Legal Aid Justice Center is calling on state lawmakers to eliminate the disorderly conduct law dealing with school disruption in the upcoming General Assembly session.

“To see this many black students being sent through the court system, this is exactly what we talk about when we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline," said Woolard.

The report's author also says a criminal complaint against a juvenile can have lasting effects on the child and their family: Dealing with the court system means time off from work and money spent on lawyers.

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