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Henrico commonwealth's attorney calls for 'smarter' school discipline

Published: Apr. 13, 2015 at 10:08 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2015 at 12:04 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Henrico County's top prosecutor is opening up about school children being labeled as criminals. This new focus on the controversial zero tolerance policy comes as TIME magazine releases a new report saying Virginia schools rank number one when it comes to referring students to police. A Henrico student is featured in the report.

"Where is the outrage?" questions education advocate Kandise Lucas.

Lucas says this "school to prison pipeline" can be demolished by getting rid of zero tolerance.

"That's not realistic," said Lucas. "As adults we get 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th chances. So it's not realistic."

Who can forget the 11-year-old student who brought shocking gum to school? He was suspended and accused of having a stun weapon.

"Is there not a better way?" we asked Henrico commonwealth's attorney Shannon Taylor.

"There is a better way," who notes student safety comes first. "But we can be smarter about how we use detention, and the role that it plays when dealing with juvenile offenders."

Taylor says there is talk among school and court officials about changing the way school discipline problems are handled.

"Talk about allowing children to be diverted for certain crimes...in that they don't have to go appear before a judge," said Taylor.

It's called restorative justice.

"This is not hug a thug. This is not sitting around singing kumbaya," said restorative justice representative Judy Clarke.

Clarke says her program is not soft on bad behavior.

"If you miss a day of school you're going to go stand before a judge because that's a violation of the agreement," said Clarke. "The victim says this is what I want. The offender says this is what I can do. We write up the agreement. We send it back to the court. The juvenile can have no court record."

Taylor says she is having a comprehensive conversation with all the stakeholders following the report from the Center for Public Integrity.

"And we'll ultimately make Virginia number one in a different category," said Taylor. "Which is having the best education system in the safest place possible."

Henrico school spokesman Andy Jenks released the following statement:

"We're certainly aware of the difficult decisions that must be made to ensure the safety of our schools, and we have the utmost confidence in our law enforcement partners. At the same time, the school division is committed to providing opportunities that help students achieve their goals in a safe and supportive learning environment."

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