Should police serve as disciplinarians in schools? The case of Virginia.

Virginia schools refer students to law enforcement agencies at a rate nearly three times the yearly national rate, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Pre-teens and teens – and disproportionally disabled and black students – are referred to court by their schools and charged for things like kicking a trash can or clenching their fist at a school police officer.

“For some kids, the process creates delinquency records that stigmatize them at school, and stick with them for years. Judges can order students to perform, as penance, community service, and to check in frequently with probation officers. They can order students to wear electronic monitors, or put kids into detention before and after a hearing. A later slip-up at school, such as using profanity, public defenders say, has sent kids back to court and into detention.”

At a time when a movement away from harsh authority and out-of-school suspensions is gaining traction all over the country, this investigation looks at how police acting as disciplinarians in school can directly impact the school-to-prison pipeline. The CPI also provides a state-by-state look at students referred to law enforcement (in Virginia, 15,8 students referred per thousand; in New York, 4,2 students, and nationally, 5,8 students.)

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