New law helps, not hurts, juveniles

The [March 8] Week in Review's "toughest on juveniles" paragraph was wildly inaccurate when it stated that the General Assembly passed a bill making the suspension and expulsion records of students open to public scrutiny.

It’s true that legislation gets introduced year after year proposing to impose adult sanctions on young people and ratchet up penalties for their misbehavior, even though juvenile crime rates are lower than ever and falling. But HB 367, sponsored by Delegate McClellan, is actually a step in the direction of protecting youth from unfair treatment.  The bill requires the Virginia Department of Education to publish suspension and expulsion rates disaggregated by race, disability status, and gender– just like we do routinely with graduation, dropout, and SOL pass rates– while protecting the confidentiality of individual students.

Suspension and expulsion disproportionately affects students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with emotional disabilities, and minority students. For example, while black students make up just 24 percent of Virginia’s student body, they received 57 percent of the total suspensions last school year. More recently, the U.S. Department of Education released national data indicating that over 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or law enforcement referrals are Hispanic or African-American.

High suspension rates are associated with low student achievement, high dropout rates, and increased contact with the juvenile justice system. HB 367 gives communities the information they need to confront disparities and work toward keeping more youth in school and on track to college or career.

Angela A. Ciolfi

The author is the Legal Director of the JustChildren program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville.

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