Why Decriminalize Disorderly Conduct?

Crisis? What Crisis?

As promised, I’m writing with an update to a previous post concerning House Bill No.8, a bill to decriminalize disorderly conduct in Virginia schools.

Many concerned teachers and parents across Virginia have contacted me with the same message: “Similar laws have been passed across America and we don’t want it in Virginia!” While Delegate Jeffery Bourne (D) has not responded to my request for an explanation, my research turned up the source and the purpose of HB No.8.

In October 2019, the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) released a report, “Decriminalizing Childhood, Ending School-Based Arrest for Disorderly Conduct.”  I have read the report and the available reference material, which suggests minority children are charged with disorderly conduct in schools at a higher rate than white children.  The report concludes with only one solution: decriminalize disruptions in schools, even if those disruptions could cause acts of violence, by removing 18.2-415(C) from the Virginia Code. 

Delegate Bourne’s HB-8 is exactly what the LAJC demands.  

Proverbial ostrich – don’t look at the problem

While the LDJC report is based on sketchy statistics and poorly documented information, there is reason to believe the schools have problems concerning discipline. Assuming the data in the LDJC report is accurate, I do not agree with the conclusion.

Issue #1: If minority children are involved in disciplinary action at a higher rate than white children, preventing students from being charged with disorderly conduct will only alter statistics to give the appearance of progress.

Changing the disorderly conduct law will not solve the problem for these children.

Issue #2: HB-8 removes all schools, public and private, from legal protection against disruption and inciting violence by ANY PERSON, not just students.  Many scenarios come to mind: unruly guests at a sporting event, or disruptive protectors at a school function.  

Must our schools wait until a person is injured or school property damaged before school officials can call the police for help?  

Issue #3. It is possible that discipline, including charges of disorderly conduct, may be too heavy-handed in some instances.  On the other hand, there are disorderly, unruly and rebellious students in school.  Charges of disorderly conduct can be levied against bullies who harass, intimidate and encourage violence against other students. Extraordinarily bad behavior requires extraordinary strong consequences.  Why should we remove this recourse from schools which may be needed to protect innocent children?

“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.”

LAJC report,”Decriminalizing Childhood, Ending School-based Arrest for Disorderly Conduct”

I agree. We need an open discussion about student behavior and discipline policies, which will require honest research of the facts!

Let’s not hide the problem – address it.

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