Del. Ken Plum: Classrooms to Courtrooms

by Del. Ken Plum February 18, 2016 at 1:30 pm 8 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion piece by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

A report of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) released last year included some eye-opening findings for Virginia. The Commonwealth leads the nation in student referrals to law enforcement, and minority students and students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement.

The CPI analyzed U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) data to find that in 2011-12 (the most recent data available), the average rate of referrals is 6 for every 1,000 students nationwide. Virginia’s rate is 16 referrals per 1,000 students, or 17,863 students referred to law enforcement during that time period.

In the nationwide totals, African American students were 16 percent of U.S. enrollment but represent 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement. Special needs students were 14 percent of enrollment but are 26 percent of students referred to law enforcement.

As more public officers are assigned to schools, more behavior that in the past would have been handled as school discipline issues are turned into law enforcement matters. Resource officers assigned to schools for public safety and education purposes are being utilized as school police.

Appropriate programs to deal with children with minor offenses are limited in the criminal justice system. As the Just Children Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia described “Virginia’s school-to-prison pipeline: Resource starvation, unaddressed academic failure, suspension and expulsion, and school policy are pushing students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

The result, the Center says, is that “students are also being funneled from the school system to the already over-burdened justice system, often for typical adolescent misbehavior, such as disorderly conduct and truancy which should be handled by school officials…Ultimately, criminalizing student behavior makes schools less safe and damages communities.”

While a few of the more dramatic instances of school resource or security officers being heavy handed have gained attention in the media, what isn’t seen is the steady flow of students entering the legal system for what in the past would have been considered discipline problems and handled within the school. Escalation of response, particularly for younger children, can be counterproductive and set them on a path that increases their chances of further misconduct.

In the billion-dollar increase in education funding proposed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a million dollars to support Positive Behavior Interventions (PBI) programs that are designed to transform school climate by shifting attention to positive behavior and providing students with a tiered system of supports and resources.

In addition, Virginia has a $3.5 million federal grant for “School Climate Transformation” to reduce referrals to law enforcement. A “Classrooms not Courtrooms” initiative is also underway in Virginia to coordinate among agencies to do a better job of keeping youth out of the juvenile justice system unless absolutely necessary.

I will be working to ensure that the legislature supports these initiatives that are investments in our future. Classrooms are much less expensive than courtrooms and far more helpful.

  • meh

    Don’t these statistics just point out that minority students are just more inclined to commit crimes and be a drain on the school system. Maybe we’re just splitting hairs here or it’s a difference of opinion but I wouldn’t classify assault as “typical adolescent misbehavior”



    The good news Mr. Plum is that since many of these youths aren’t given felony convictions, you’ll have a bunch of new Voters in 3-5 years. YAY!

    • Wardrobes not violence

      I’m a history buff, even though history was one of my least favorite subjects, in school. It started out as a young lad, loving action movies… most of them included sword fights, gunfights or battle scenes of some sort. There were hundreds of these movies, when I was young. Robin hood, Prince Valiant, Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Horse soldiers, They died with their boots on, Waterloo, Ben Hur……………….

      Hollywood made war look glorious,… like watching the Super Bowl! Back then, these movies spared the viewer all the bloodshed we see in today’s films, so warfare was easier on the eyes.

      Looking back, I now realize there is absolutely nothing glorious about warfare, it was only the pomp and circumstance that I loved, and the splendid uniforms worn on the battlefield.

  • Mike M

    We couldn’t let teachers enforce order in the public schools, so we brought in police officers. That didn’t sound nice to our ears, so we called them resource officers. Now, we don’t like how they do what they do, so we are going to dumb down their enforcement powers as well. Why? Because of the category of the predominant offenders? So, we are yet again reducing the enforcement of order in the schools, and spending a big chunk of change to facilitate this decay? At what point do you draw the line and accept that we have to protect our already MASSIVE investment in the schools with the enforcement of order in the schools? One of the reasons our schools are so expensive is we keep adding programs to compensate for the policies we keep watering down to avoid feel bad realities.

    • Dindu Nuffin

      The cold reality is that certain ‘youths’ would rather be outside slinging rock or working on their jump shot instead of learning. Academics are considered “too white” and not “cool”.

      For a certain demographic to be “with the cause” it behooves them to act out lest they want to be ostracized from their community

  • teacher

    Orrrrrr, maybe those monies can be used to provide better resources for the students that actually give a damn and want to learn. Just a thought.

  • drebt

    Ken is right; however the solution must have many steps. If we legalize the recreational use of all drugs except for minors, and promote a project based educational system, we can eliminate the problem. Using marshal force against students for victimless crimes is nothing short of fascism.

  • John Higgins

    My takeaway is that Del. Plum supports development of programs that will enable schools to more rationally deal with bad behavior in schools before it escalates to criminal behavior. Nothing wring with that.

    It appears the delegate is suggesting that school administrators are too quick to call on law enforcement. For example, a shove in the hallway is a battery, a criminal act. There was a time when that was no big deal and was dealt with by disciplinary measures. Perhaps we need to return to that time rather than over-react under fanciful no-tolerance policies. Frankly, in dealing with kids tolerance is a virtue. The larger problem will be dealing with the parents when they complain of inadequate response in the school. I think that’s what brought us to this point.

  • Virginia Harlow

    I personally would favor dropping the word “compulsory” from education, so it’s an opportunity for a free education. Then those who refuse to achieve or behave can be tossed. There can be other places for trouble makers, eliminating making them criminals, and also freeing the classroom for serious learning of willing, eager students and giving teachers the power to say who stays and who goes. I would prefer those uninterested in actual learning attend trade schools or schools geared only toward that which they are willing to learn. Instead we spend a fortune keeping kids in schools long after they quit being willing or interested, making them prisoners. And then we wonder why they act out.


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