House subcommittee votes down school discipline bills

A House of Delegates subcommittee has essentially killed two bills that would change how students can be disciplined.

Efforts from Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, and Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, to change state law so that students couldn’t be found guilty of disorderly conduct for actions in school were laid on the table by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Courts of Justice.

A bill that is laid on the table is not officially killed and can be reconsidered this session, but it’s unlikely the legislation will be brought forward again this session.

 

“It’s another step and bite at the apple to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Bourne, a former Richmond School Board member. “We’re criminalizing conduct that really needs to be corrected.”

Several subcommittee members, including Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, and House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, expressed concern about how the legislation would completely take away the option of a disorderly conduct charge.

The Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys and the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association both opposed the legislation.

“The whole issue of a school-to-prison pipeline is a myth,” said Bryan Haskins, the commonwealth’s attorney for Pittsylvania County.

From the 2013-14 school year to 2017-18, there were more than 7,000 disorderly conduct complaints made against Virginia children, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Three in five complaints came from police, with others coming from school officials and school resource officers.

Nearly two-thirds of complaints from school officials or SROs were filed against black students — far greater than the percentage of black students in Virginia schools, according to state data.

Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor in Virginia with a potential punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. It’s defined generally as disrupting an activity “with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.”

A variation of the proposed changes also failed in the House in 2016. A bill from Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun, would have prevented students ages 14 and younger from facing criminal charges for disorderly conduct at school. It was killed by the full chamber.

A bill from Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, on the same issue is still alive in the Senate.