Del. Mullin proposes bill to further curtail arrests of school children

Staff Writer

As the General Assembly looks to reconvene for a short legislative session in 2019, one member of the delegation from Greater Williamsburg has his eye on ending the “school to prison pipeline.”

Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, prefiled two bills for the upcoming session that would end the practice of arresting school children for disruptive behavior and divert juveniles away from the court system and toward community-based services, such as emotional support care or anger management.

“My father was a high school English teacher for 26 years,” Mullin said. “Teachers should have all possible options in terms of being able to discipline their students and keep their classrooms in a learning environment, but it seems to me we’ve swung too far in the other direction.”

Mullin points to reports that Virginia is one of the worst states, if not the worst in terms of sending students from schoolyards to jail yards.

House Bill 1688 would prevent police officers from charging any elementary or secondary school student with disorderly conduct if they are on school property, including school buses.

“This statute has been disproportionately applied to communities of color,” Mullin said. “Young African-American males are charged with disorderly conduct for something that 10 years ago would have resulted in them being sent to the principal's office.”

All other crimes would remain applicable to students on school property, Mullin said. If a student smashes a desk, that student could face criminal charges for destruction of property.

In that case, the student could feel an impact from another bill Mullin has prefiled with the state legislature.

House Bill 1771 would change the purpose and intent of the law to prevent juvenile crime to provide more support services and community diversions to students charged with crimes.

Between the two bills, Mullin said he didn’t expect a significant cost to taxpayers.

“Anytime you're eliminating a crime instead of creating a crime, there's not normally a fiscal impact,” Mullin said.

House Bill 1771 could have a fiscal impact in the short term, Mullin said, but said he expects the bill to be revenue neutral in the longer term as it's cheaper for the state to divert juveniles toward social services than to provide those services in jail.

“Right now if you want to be able to get services, mental health services, transportation services, the only real way that you can get that right now is if you've been declared a delinquent,” Mullin said.

The bill came as a suggested piece of legislation from a bipartisan house select committee, according to Mullin.

“There were about two dozen bipartisan suggestions from the committee and this is one of them,” Mullin said.

Mullin has previously attempted to pass similar legislation in two previous General Assembly sessions. Those two bills died in committee, according to the Virginia Legislative Information System.

When the legislative session starts Jan. 9, Mullin said he’s optimistic these legal tweaks won’t end up like his previous attempts.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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