In Virginia, black students more likely to be penalized for the same conduct as their peers

By Sean Galvin

October 28, 2019

A new report from a legal advocacy group for low-income Virginians found black students made up a disproportionate share of the disorderly conduct charges filed by Virginia public school officers.

Despite only representing 22% of the student population, African-American students were the subject of 62% of the criminal complaints. What were they charged with? Actions as mundane as “cutting in a lunch line,” “singing on a school bus,” and “shouting in a cafeteria.” 

Researchers at the Legal Aid Justice Center found the total number of disorderly conduct charges against students had increased 40% against black students and 24% against white students in the past four years.

Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor that can be used against both adults and children. Researchers argue that this leads to students having “unnecessary contact with law enforcement and involvement with the justice system.” They also criticized the fact that “disorderly conduct” charges were often added to other charges for the exact same event.

Legal Aid Justice Center is calling for the repeal of the school-related portions of the disorderly conduct laws. Some Democratic legislators are aiming to do just that.

“These are terrifying numbers showing racial inequality in charges being levied,” Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) told The Virginian-Pilot.

Mullin was one of the patrons of a 2018 bill that sought to put an end to disorderly conduct laws in schools. The bill was tabled last January by a Republican-dominated House of Delegates subcommittee.

Mullins said that if re-elected, he will work with other Democrats to re-introduce the bill during the 2020 session.

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