Classrooms Not Courtrooms

In April 2015, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) analyzed U.S. Department of Educations’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) data and highlighted the number of students referred to law enforcement from schools. The report found that Virginia led the nation with referrals at a rate of 15.8 students per 1,000 compared to the national average of 6 students per 1,000. Nearly 16 out of every 1,000 Virginia students were referred by schools to law enforcement in the 2011-2012 school year, which was three times the national average. (Note: In the data CPI collected, schools did not have to explain the reason for the referral and a referral did not necessarily result in an arrest or court action.)

Furthermore, according to the CPI report, minority students and students with disabilities were referred to law enforcement at a disproportionate rate in comparison to their counterparts. For example, over 38 percent of referrals to law enforcement in Virginia were black students, yet black students make up only 24 percent of the student population. Similarly, 30 percent of the referred students had a disability when only 14 percent of students in Virginia have disabilities.

Given the significance of the issue, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked the Children’s Cabinet to recommend policy changes to improve the likelihood of youth remaining and being successful in schools rather than entering the juvenile or criminal justice system as a result of school-related behavioral issues. The members of the Children’s Cabinet convened a workgroup consisting of agency heads and personnel from the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). They were charged with examining these issues and providing recommendations for schools and communities. The ultimate goal of this initiative is to safely keep students in classrooms – not courtrooms, while giving special consideration to disproportionate minority and disability suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and juvenile intake rates.

The Children’s Cabinet identified nine recommendations to reduce the number of students referred to law enforcement from schools.

How we measure success

  • Decreased number of school referrals to law enforcement statewide
  • Decreased suspension rates statewide
  • Decreased rate of disproportionate school referrals and suspensions for minority students and students with disabilities.

Outputs and outcomes to date

  • DJJ improved its data collection methods for school year (SY) 2015-2016 to identify when school officials or SROs were referring youth to DJJ. The data shows that 15% of all Commonwealth complaints to DJJ were by school officials.
  • DOE improved its data collection for (SY) 2016-17 to include 1) in-School-Suspension assignments; 2) referrals to law enforcement that result in charges filed; and 3) instances when education is provided during suspension/expulsion.
  • SRO training curricula, program guide, and model MOU are being updated, for the first time in 10 years, by a diverse committee of experts in various fields.
  • Virginia Tech received a grant to examine school referrals and discipline, juvenile justice intake data, and school safety scores. This study identifies the factors, policies, and practices that contribute to school referrals to the juvenile justice system and analyzes which schools are performing well and which need additional support. Preliminary data show likely referral rate from schools to law enforcement resulting in court action is 2.3 per 1,000 students.
  • A data work group with DCJS, DOE, & DJJ is reviewing cross-system data to identify outliers across Virginia.

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