Virginia education advocates praise measures to get rid of ‘School to Prison Pipeline’

Va. lawmakers want to limit criminal charges in school

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - There’s a renewed push to crackdown on the number of Virginia students being charged with crimes at school.

The General Assembly just approved two new measures. One will get rid of the option schools currently have to insist students are charged with disorderly conduct if they act up in school, which is a misdemeanor. The second measure will give school leaders more power to decide whether a student’s behavior really constitutes a need to get the police involved. Both proposals are now in the hands of the governor.

"In Virginia, they have actually called the police on children in elementary schools and have had them arrested for their behavior and discipline,” said Dr. Marla Crawford of Elite Educational Consulting.

She’s praising the actions of the General Assembly, which just passed Senate Bill 729 and Senate Bill 3. Both eliminate what some education advocates call the “school to jail pipeline.”

“If a child is in the school fighting, and it may be just a simple interaction among children, but they can be charged with assault…We need to look at the overhaul of how we’re educating youth in Virginia,” said Crawford.

That’s why Senator Jennifer McClellan proposed the measures. "Virginia has led the nation in referring kids to law enforcement and it’s disproportionately been children of color and children with disabilities,” she said.

She was outraged to learn of what she says happened to one child in a Central Virginia school district.

"{The student} was charged with disorderly conduct which is a misdemeanor for singing a rap song on a bus, which is a little ridiculous,” McClellan said.

Although lawmakers sided with her to make the changes, there was some push back.

“(Some lawmakers) were trying to say this would make schools less safe and making it sound like no one would ever report any crime, and that’s just not true. Principals, if they think something deserves to be reported to law enforcement and (it) is actually criminal behavior that should be prosecuted, they can," McClellan said.

"We are against the push out. We need to increase the counseling and support services in the building. We need to look at how our programs are looking at social skill development. We need to bring character education back into the system,” Crawford added.

Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign off, which means both measures could become law in July.

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