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Learn more about School Resource Officers and Police Free Schools

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: October 23, 2019
Contact:
Jeff Jones
Director of Communications 
Legal Aid Justice Center
jeff@justice4all.org
(804)869-1040

NEW REPORT REVEALS HOW VIRGINIA’S DISORDERLY CONDUCT STATUTE IS DISPROPORTIONATELY APPLIED TO BLACK STUDENTS

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 www.justice4all.org/disorderlyconduct2019

 

 

 

 

Virginia Schools Need Investment in Support Staff—Not More School Resource Officers

Yesterday, Governor Northam announced over $3.47 million in School Resource Officer (SRO) incentive grants to 53 localities across the Commonwealth. The funding will allow school divisions to add more SROs to Virginia’s K-12 public schools, increasing the number of SROs in Virginia by 10 percent, according to the press release. To create safer schools where all children can learn and thrive, Virginia must divest from placing law enforcement inside schools and make bold new investments in school support staff and trauma-informed and restorative practices.

School Policing Is A Racial Justice Issue

African-American students are disproportionately swept into the criminal justice system for incidents that take place at school. A 2017 Virginia Tech study uncovered significant racial disparities in referrals to law enforcement for school-based offenses: African-American students accounted for roughly 23 percent of the student population in Virginia but nearly 50 percent of referrals to the juvenile justice system. Those disparities are heightened inside school buildings and persist throughout Virginia’s law enforcement and juvenile court process. A single report of a student to law enforcement, even if it does not lead to a juvenile court intake, can have devastating and ongoing consequences for a student: stigmatization by school staff and peers, erosion of trust in school staff, susceptibility to more police encounters, and loss of interest in school.

As outlined in an extensive report from The Advancement Project, school policing has roots in efforts to quash youth support for the Civil Rights movement, and African-American students report feeling less safe with police in schools.

Our Schools Don’t Need More SROs

According to Virginia’s 2017 Statewide School Safety Audit Survey, 87 percent of high schools and 85 percent of middle schools have either a full-time or part-time SRO. In recent years, in headline after headline, we have heard about school police officers responding with force against students with disabilities, using chemical restraints like pepper spray against middle school students, threatening or intimidating students, and harboring ties to white supremacist groups. Through data collection, we see vague, subjective behavioral “offenses” like disorderly conduct charges decrease in the community, yet substantially increase in our schools. Only this past General Assembly session did lawmakers mandate that all SROs receive training specific to their duties—a law that will not even go into effect in full until July 2020.    

Both the data and historically overpoliced communities themselves tell us clearly: rather than providing for the safety of students, a school law enforcement presence merely shuttles more students—and disproportionately more African-American students—into court for school discipline matters that should be handled by school personnel.

Meanwhile, Virginia understaffs positions critical to student support—positions that should be the first line of support for students who instead are garnering charges—and student caseloads are staggering. School counselors had an average caseload of 385 students in 2016, well above the recommended standard of 250 students. In 2015, school social workers had an average caseload of 1,600 students; the national recommendation was 1,000.

Virginia Must Fix Its School Funding Crisis

SROs are law enforcement officers, not student support personnel. Rather than prioritizing SROs, the Commonwealth must first fulfill its state constitutional duty to invest in high-quality, twenty-first century schools with adequate student support staff. But given the opportunity, the administration has neglected to propose, and the General Assembly has declined, over and over, to fully fund the required staffing positions to achieve high-quality schools for all students. Despite broad support for a new law, effective July 1, to require school divisions to lower counselor-to-student ratios, the state’s FY20 budget doesn’t fully fund the new caseload requirements—leaving local school divisions with an unfunded mandate. This shortfall also exists despite recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to lift the state budget’s arbitrary “support position cap”—which limits funding for school support positions, including central office positions, attendance officers, school social workers, and maintenance personnel.

To truly create supportive learning enforcements for our students—Virginia must fully fund our schools.

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CONTACT:
Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program, Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7304 | rachael@justice4all.org

Richmond, Virginia (July 6, 2018) – In advance of the July 11 meeting of the Virginia House Select Committee on School Safety, the Legal Aid Justice Center and 23 advocacy organizations are calling upon the General Assembly and Governor Northam to address the Commonwealth’s school safety concerns by investing in supports and services to meet the needs and improve the health and welfare of students well before behavior reaches a point of violence. Rather than looking toward “hardening” our schools, Virginia policymakers must prioritize supporting and strengthening our students.

In a letter today to the House Select Committee on School Safety, which was also delivered to members of the House Appropriations Committee and Governor Northam, LAJC and its partner organizations offered detailed recommendations around four main school safety policies:

  • Increasing school support staff, such as school counselors and nurses;
  • Improving school policing accountability through tailored, mandated training for school resource officers on working with children and youth;
  • Investing in positive school discipline and school climate programs and methods, such as restorative practices; and
  • Broadening the accessibility of supports and services under relevant funding streams, such as the Children’s Services Act.

“Rather than focusing solely on what makes school buildings more secure, policymakers should be asking what makes our students safer, healthier, and more connected to their education, and we already know many of the answers,” said Rachael Deane, Legal Director of the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “School counselors, nurses, psychologists, and other support staff play an irreplaceable role in students’ overall well-being. It’s time to lift the state’s funding cap on these positions and to invest in prevention, positive intervention, mental health, and trauma-informed supports. These approaches dramatically improve safety not just for students, but also for teachers, staff, and communities as a whole.”

 

In Virginia and across the country, school policing unnecessarily criminalizes young people and disproportionately harms Black students. There is a positive correlation between the use of School Resource Officers (SROs) and school pushout, including suspension, expulsion, referral to law enforcement, and arrest. Meanwhile, there is no accepted research or evidence that SROs increase school safety—and many students, particularly students of color, share that the presence of SROs makes them feel less safe at school.

We must broaden our understanding of school safety and begin to envision vibrant community schools that are welcoming, safe, and healthy for all students and educators. A growing list of communities across Virginia and the nation are engaging in dialogue about the role of police in schools. This page provides resources to examine school policing and to begin meaningful conversations in local communities. For more information on divesting from law enforcement and investing in evidence-based student supports, including counselors, nurses, social workers, and support professionals, visit our Fund Our Schools campaign. 

If you’d like more information or technical assistance for advocacy in your local community please fill out the form below

Protecting Childhood: A Blueprint for Developmentally Appropriate School Policing in Virginia

The JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center has released a report identifying the problems of placing law enforcement officers in schools. The report provides a list of detailed recommendations that will improve school safety, increase academic achievement, and help break down the school-to-prison pipeline.

School security personnel are increasingly commonplace in Virginia’s public schools. There are two types. School resource officers (SROs) are certified law enforcement officers who are typically employed by local law enforcement agencies and assigned to provide coverage to public schools. School security officers (SSOs) are individuals employed by school divisions to maintain order and discipline in their assigned schools. To date, little analysis of school policing in the Commonwealth exists. This report aims to change that.

More info here.

Report says Virginia should require school police training and alter laws to reduce arrests (Center for Public Integrity)

Full Report (PDF)

 

How to Learn More about School Policing and School Resource Officers (SROs) in Your Community

Publicly accessible information about School Resource Officers and School Security Officers, detailed below and in our sample FOIA request, may be kept in several different locations within several different agencies, making it difficult to gather the full picture of a local community’s use of law enforcement in schools: 

  • Some information may be kept by a local school or school division.  
  • Some information may be kept by a local law enforcement/police agency.  
  • Some information (especially budgets) may be kept by a city manager, city council, or board of supervisors. 
  • Some information may be kept by the Court Service Unit (CSU)which is the juvenile court intake office that serves your community 
  • Most CSUs are governed by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, so some information may be held by that state agency.  
  • Still further, School Resource Officers are trained and certified by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, so some information may be kept by that agency.  

This document outlines preliminary investigation strategies and questions for community members to learn more about the relationship between police and schools in their localities.  

 

School Resource Officers in the Schools: the Basics 

Does my school division use SROs? A recent state survey found that SROs are used in at least 55% of all Virginia schools, either full-time or part-time. Of these, SROs are stationed in 41% of elementary schools, 93% of middle schools, and 96% of high schools—so, most school divisions are using SROs in some capacity. This information should be publicly available and can be requested via FOIA (see sample FOIA document). 

Sample questions to ask of your school division and local police agency: 

  • How many SROs are employed and in which schools are they stationed? Compare these results to both student composition by race and poverty rates of schools within a division. 
  • Are they full-time or part-time employees? 
  • Are they stationed inside the school building or are they rotated through the district? 
  • If they are stationed inside the school building, what is their “beat” / where are they placed? 
  • What use of force implements (firearms, chemical restraints, mechanical restraints) do SROs carry, and under what conditions are SROs allowed to use these on students? 
  • What specific training do SROs receive before and during the time they are stationed in schools?  

School Security Officers in the Schools 

School Security Officers are school division employees (rather than law enforcement) and DO have authority to handle discipline matters within the school. Their duties would NOT usually be laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between school divisions and law enforcement because they are not law enforcement. However, they are—by state law—able to carry firearms on duty and refer students to both school discipline officers and police. 

Sample questions to ask of your school division: 

  • How many School Security Officers are employed by the school division and in which schools are they stationed? Compare these results to both student composition by race and poverty rates of schools within a division. 
  • Do School Security Officers carry firearms, chemical restraints, or mechanical restraints, and under what conditions are they permitted to use these on students? 
  • Do schools track data and information about referrals by School Security Officers of students to school discipline officers or law enforcement? Communities could demand that this information be anonymized and tracked, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, age, and disability status of students and disaggregated by school within the division. 
  • Do schools track data and information about use of force and use of seclusion/restraint by School Security Officers on students? Communities could demand that this information be anonymized and tracked, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, age, and disability status of students and disaggregated by school within the division. Compare this data to both student composition by race and poverty rates of schools within a division. 

 

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) 

As of July 1, 2019, all school divisions who use School Resource Officers must have enacted a Memorandum of Understanding between the school division and local law enforcement agency to govern their use. Va. Code §22.1-280.2:3.  

Beginning July 1, 2020, these school divisions must also: 

1) post the most recent MOU on their website;  

2) review the MOU at least once every two years (and at any point if either schools or police request it); and  

3) provide opportunity for public input during its review. 

This agreement should lay out the duties of SROs, as well as detail the responsibilities of school divisions and law enforcement in maintaining their use, including how costs are divided. 

Sample questions to ask your local school division and law enforcement agency: 

  • When was the original MOU established and what is the date of the current MOU? 
  • Who negotiates the MOU, and who negotiated the original agreement? 
  • When is the next scheduled date for review? 

If MOUs are used, communities can also demand an active role in their development and approval. The agreements should at least be placed on agendas of public meetings and be voted on publicly. 

 

Local Budgets 

School Resource Officers are funded differently across the Commonwealth. Some localities fund SROs using strictly local dollars. Others use supplemental grant funding from the state, via the School Resource Officer Grant Fund maintained by the Va. Dept. of Criminal Justice Services. Some school divisions reimburse local law enforcement/police agencies for SRO positions, whereas some localities use cost-sharing agreements between schools and police to provide funding. 

Sample questions to ask local school divisions, law enforcement agencies, and city managers/city councils/boards of supervisors: 

  • How are SROs funded in this locality? Ask for a line item breakdown of all costs associated with maintaining SROs, and from where that funding is drawn.  
  • When was the SRO program started in this locality, and how was funding allocated over time (look at least 5-10 years back)? 
  • How are support staff and socio-emotional supports funded in the school division, and how has staffing of counselors, mental health supports, nurses, psychologists, mediators, and other support staff changed over time based on funding? 
  • Are there student or community needs assessments that are informing budget choices? 
  • When are School Resource Officer budgets approved each year? When have they been up for a vote on either school board or city/county agendas? When is the next such vote? 

 

Student Referrals to Law Enforcement and Court 

Virginia is among the states that refers the most students to law enforcement and courts. Nationally and statewide, we know there are extreme disparities within school discipline and school policing of students by race and disability. This data can be tracked at the local level, and communities can demand local school boards provide this information and discuss publicly at forums, school board meetings, and other events to help address any disproportionate contact by race and disability. 

Sample questions to ask of local school divisions, local law enforcement/police agencies, Court Service Units and the Va. Dept. of Juvenile JusticeAll of this data should be anonymized, then disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, age or grade, and disability to examine any disparities. It is also helpful to look at this data over time—a 5 to 10-year lookback is helpful to show trends. 

  • How many students were referred to law enforcement by school administrators in a given school year? As of July 1, 2020, school administrators will no longer be mandated to refer students to law enforcement for potential misdemeanor offenses. What will the data say about their discretion vs when they were mandated reporters? 
  • How many students were referred by school personnel to courts through a complaint or charge filed with the CSU? 
  • How many students were referred by law enforcement to courts through a complaint or charge filed with the CSU? 
  • For what offenses were these students referred? 
  • What are the court outcomes for these students? How many were given diversion plans and how many were prosecuted? How do these results differ by race/ethnicity, gender, etc? 
In the midst of a crisis, it can be hard to talk about anything else, but we wanted to take a minute and share with you some truly transformational outcomes from our advocacy efforts at the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session that ended on March 12. Your support helped make all of this possible.
  
This year we worked with legislators to introduce over 30 bills and budget amendments and served in leading roles with coalition partners on six others. LAJC also engaged on over a dozen other bills related to our priorities, supporting organizations and legislators on their agendas. The results are a significant step forward in our efforts to the dismantle systems that perpetuate poverty in Virginia.     
 
Here are some highlights: 
 
   
Challenging Court Debt, Pretrial Detention, and the Criminalization of Poverty
  
 
WIN – The legislature voted to repeal the unconstitutional “Habitual Drunkard” statute that had primarily targeted people experiencing homeless and struggling with alcohol, criminalizing them because of their illness.   
 
WINS – After a multi-year LAJC campaign that paired litigation and legislative advocacy, Virginia will permanently end the suspension of driver’s licenses due to unpaid court debt. LAJC also led a successful effort on a second bill that repeals the 10-day mandatory minimum sentence given to drivers for a third or subsequent conviction of driving with a suspended license.  
 

PROGRESS – Our bills addressing pretrial detention did not pass as written, but we did win compromise legislation allowing magistrates to override a presumption of mandatory detention without having to seek approval from the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The bill seeking data collection and transparency in our pretrial process also did not pass, but the final budget contains language to set up a plan to create a pilot data collection tool.

 
 
Immigrant Virginians: Protecting Rights, Health and Safety, Education
  
 
WIN – The legislature passed the bills to permit in-state tuition for any student who attended at least two years of high school in Virginia and graduates from high school in Virginia or attains a GED in the Commonwealth, regardless of immigration status.  
 
WIN + MORE WORK TO DO – The years long efforts to make it legal for immigrants to drive in Virginia has passed and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The law creates Driver’s Privilege Cards as opposed to our original demand of Virginia driver’s licenses for all. The coalition plans to continue the fight continues full drivers’ licenses and for increased privacy protections for those enrolled.   
 
WIN + MORE WORK TO DO – The bills to end the mandate that local and state law-enforcement report immigration statuses to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did pass, though it was amended from our original recommendation. Localities will no longer be required to report on those arrested on misdemeanor charges, though felony charge reporting is still the law.     
 
MORE WORK TO DO – Minimum wage reform bills have passed this session and while we applaud the raising of the wage for workers across the state, we are extremely disappointed that farmworkers were once again left out of these important bills. Also left unfinished, with the bills being continued to the 2021 session, were our efforts to gain new protections for outdoor workers—including migrant farmworkers—to ensure better health and safety conditions for these positions.   
   
 
 
Education Equity and Youth Justice Reform
  
 
WIN – The House and Senate passed bills that will ensure that all students in Virginia, whether in school, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event, cannot be criminalized for “disorderly conduct.”     
 
WINS – All four bills addressing school policing have passed. One will open up data to the public on School Resource Officers’ (SRO) interactions with students, one increases and improves training for SROs, another increases how frequently agreements between schools and security agencies are reviewed, and the final makes it discretionary whether school administrators report a range of misdemeanors and status offenses to law enforcement.  
   
WINS – A bill to assure that school dress codes include anti-discrimination protections based on race and ethnicity, and another bill that extends educational stability protections to students in foster care up to age 22—helping those who age out of care at age 18 but are still pursuing their high school education—have both passed.    
 
PROGRESS – The legislation we helped champion that would have mandated Virginia fund our public K-12 educational system to match the recommendations made by the Board of Education’s Standards of Quality did not survive this session, though some aspects of our bills were included in the budget (though not always to the levels we had hoped), including an increase in the number of school counselors and ESL teachers, more funds for students from low-income families, and a 2% pay increase for teachers & certain designated staff with an additional 2% the following year.    
 
WINS – We worked with the administration and legislators to win three important bills to stem the flow of youth into deeper incarceration: one provides eligibility for parole to any youth convicted as an adult who has served at least 20 years of incarceration (and will be applied retroactively); one allows judges to ignore mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for youth; and a third eliminates both automatic and prosecutorial transfer of 14- and 15-year-old youth to adult court.  
  
 
 
Improving Housing Stability and Tenants’ Rights
   
 
WIN – The House and Senate passed a bill to include the city of Charlottesville in a statute that provides certain localities in the Commonwealth with broad powers to design innovative affordable housing solutions.   
 

WIN – LAJC worked alongside Virginia Poverty Law Center advocates to help secure passage of critical legislation to ensure residents have 12 months’ notice of any intent to sell or demolish the public housing where they reside.  

  
These successes are the result of years of advocacy and none would have been possible without your support and without the tremendous efforts made by community members, partner organizations, and legislators from across the Commonwealth who championed—and continue to support—our work.
   
 
Of course, there is still much more to do, and we will be ready for next year’s session to continue the fight for more justice and less poverty. 

Crossover

 

We are halfway through the 2020 Virginia legislative session, and the bills that have passed through both the House and Senate have now “crossed over” to be considered in the opposite chamber. LAJC is happy to report that a majority of the legislation that we have supported is still up for consideration this year, including:

     

Pretrial Detention and Decriminalizing Poverty

The unconstitutional “Habitual Drunkard” statute is one step closer to finally being removed from the Virginia Code after a bill repealing it was approved in the House.  

Identical versions of our bill to permanently eliminate the practice of suspending driver’s licenses due to unpaid court debt has passed both chambers with wide margins (unanimously in the Senate)—one or both of these bills will still need to pass its opposite chamber before being sent to the Governor for signature, but their path looks promising. A second bill that repeals the 10-day mandatory minimum sentence given to drivers convicted of a third or subsequent offense of driving with a suspended license passed the Senate unanimously—there was no companion House bill, so we will be working that bill anew as it crosses over to the House. 

Our bills addressing pretrial detention have each have taken a different path.  The bill to roll back statutory presumptions that legally innocent people should be detained pretrial passed the House and has moved on to the Senate. Another bill to ensure meaningful first appearance in court with counsel did not make it out of the House, and a third bill to mandate the collection of a broad range of pretrial data did pass the Senate but with an a contingency clause that the final budget must include appropriate funding. While these bills may not make it through session, or at least not in their original forms, we continue to advocate for these efforts. 
   



Protecting Immigrant Virginians

The minimum wage reform bills that have passed both the House and Senate will be heading to a conference committee. We are working with the Raise the Wage Virginia coalition to ensure that farm and agricultural workers become protected under our state wage law. This important aspect is included in the bill that passed the House but not the one in the Senate.  We are advocating for its inclusion in the final legislation. 

There is a similar situation with the effort to limit the cooperation between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill that has passed the House is much more comprehensive that the Senate version, so we are hopeful that the final conference committee language will maintain what is in the strong House bill.

Both chambers passed legislation to permit in-state tuition rates for any student who attended at least one year of high school in Virginia and graduates from high school in Virginia or attains a GED in the Commonwealth, regardless of immigration status—there may be some details to iron out in terms of how the final bill is designed, but we will be following the conference process closely to help shape that effort. 

The campaign for Driver’s Licenses for All is closer than ever to success. A bill has made it through both chambers, with the House bill providing true (non-REAL-ID) driver’s licenses to immigrants, while the Senate bill limits this to “Driver’s Privilege Cards.”  We believe it is vital to avoid a separate ID system for immigrants and are working with coalition members to advocate for the House bill’s provisions.

 


     

A Better Education

The House and Senate bills that will ensure that all students in Virginia, whether in school, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event, cannot be criminalized for “disorderly conduct,” have passed both chambers, and the House version is already on its way to the Senate floor after a successful Senate committee appearance just one day after Crossover. We are hopeful that they will continue to move forward with broad support. 

There are three bills addressing school policing. One will open up data to the public on School Resource Officers’ (SRO) interactions with students, one increases and improves training for SROs, and the other increases how frequently agreements between schools and security agencies are reviewed. All three have passed both chambers

Also easily getting through both the House and Senatea bill to assure that school dress codes include anti-discrimination protections based on race and ethnicity, and one that extends educational stability protections to students in foster care up to age 22, helping those who age out of care at age 18 but are still pursuing their high school education. 

The House bill that would have mandated Virginia fund our public K-12 educational system to match the recommendations made by the Board of Education’s Standards of Quality did not advance this session, while the Senate bill passed its own chamber with a contingency clause that the final budget must include appropriate funding. Still, even without the bills, we have a critical opportunity to increase funding for our K-12 schools and accomplish the bills’ goals through the budget itself. The process for creating the state budget is underway and our Fund Our Schools campaign is asking for help in calling the legislators who are negotiating the budgets.

   

Thank you for reading. We will update you at the end of the General Assembly session on what legislation has passed and what it means for our communities. 

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