Criminalization of student behavior examined as states consider updating laws
- Some states are now considering changes to laws that criminalize offenses that aren't always considered crimes when committed away from school grounds, with South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia among those with reform legislation proposals.
- South Carolina, where 1,222 juvenile offenses for disturbing schools were referred to family court in the 2014-25 school year, is specifically considering two bills that would more clearly define crimes under a "disturbing-schools statute" or bar arrests of students for those offenses, according to Education Week.
- Critics, however, say that caution is advised because narrowly defining what constitutes a school disturbance could lead to unanticipated student-behavior situations that lawmakers may not have considered.
The school-to-prison pipeline has been a hot topic lately, with states like Illinois and California taking steps to dismantle it. The negative effects of harsh punishments for small crimes and zero-tolerance discipline policies have been proven to push students into the criminal justice system, and the phenomenon disproportionately affects students of color.
President Barack Obama’s administration has spoken out against the pipeline, increasing the national spotlight on the issues and its serious consequences. Additionally, UCLA's “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” found that, out of 3.5 million public school students suspended at least once in 2011-12, 16% of black students had been suspended as opposed to just 5% of whites.
And although changes may be ahead in a number of states, districts and administrators can look forward and pre-empt changes by following the examples set by California, Illinois, and others in getting rid of long suspensions, expulsions, and other strict measures, with exceptions for severe circumstances.