Report on Disorderly Conduct Charges in Schools

DATE: October 23, 2019
Jeff Jones
Director of Communications 
Legal Aid Justice Center


In the last three years, Black students made up approximately 22% of the school population in Virginia but averaged over 62% of the school-based disorderly conduct criminal complaints.

Richmond, VA – The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), today released a new report “Decriminalizing Childhood, Ending School-Based Arrest for Disorderly Conduct” that shows how Virginia’s school system is charging Black students, and Black girls at an accelerating rate, with disorderly conduct—a  vague, catch-all law that criminalizes low-level public disruption that does not rise to the level of physical harm, property damage, or even threat—unequally compared to their white counterparts. The authors call for the repeal of the school-based portion of the statute, preventing students from unneeded involvement is the criminal legal system.

 “At its root, school-based disorderly conduct charges are implements of what are often punitive systems—law enforcement and delinquency courts—improperly used to address school or health system issues—and sometimes to address behavior that is not any significant issue at all, but merely a characteristic of normal adolescent development.” said report author, LAJC Attorney Amy Woolard.

The report outlines how this subjective application of the law causes real harm to the young people affected, from the disruption of their education to the trauma of court involvement; how the damage can extend beyond the student to the family; and how its use complicates the role of School Resource Officers and creates a system of dual punishment when combined with traditional school disciplinary procedures.

“Disorderly conduct is, by law and design, the crime the state uses against you when it can’t find any other crime,” said Rachael Deane, legal director of LAJC’s Justchildren program. “Schools are learning environments—not simply for gaining academic knowledge, but also for allowing young people to learn the behavioral, social, and conflict resolution skills that form their positive maturity. To do this, we must allow them not just to make mistakes, but to recover from those mistakes without lasting consequences like school dropout, court involvement, and a juvenile record.”

The report is available at




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