Monday, February 24, 2020

Education Bills Wrapping Up; The Truth About Mandatory Principal Reporting Bills

February 24, 2020

Two big areas of activity to report on today.

The House and Senate education subcommittees wrapped up business Monday and have now had hearings on all their bills. In the House, all education bills have now been passed, killed, referred to Appropriations, or are on the floor. The Senate will have its final full committee meeting on Thursday, and all its bills will also then be either passed, killed, referred to Finance, or on the floor.
This progress allows us to focus on the big bills remaining for us: collective bargaining and the budget. I will share more about those tomorrow.

On the final day in the House, it’s looking like the years of work by Senator Barker to make sure every eligible child in Virginia has access to full-day kindergarten will finally have a favorable outcome. Over the years, the VEA has stood alongside the Senator on this, and fewer and fewer school divisions have opposed it. Right now, there are only two school divisions without full-day kindergarten for all eligible students: Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Both school divisions testified today that they will be able to meet the requirements of the bill and will have full-day KG for all students by the 2022-23 school year. Finally!!

On the House floor today, John Bell’s SB377 passed—it restores the option of a three-person panel in teacher grievance and dismissal cases. It now goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed. This is the last of the series of due process bills VEA initiated this session to undo damage done in 2013, when the General Assembly wanted to make it easy to fire teachers. This bill joins SB98, SB167, HB365, and HB570 that have already passed both bodies and are also headed to the Governor’s desk. This session has been very important for our due process rights. Elections matter.

Mandatory Reporting

The second big item is the mandatory reporting bill, a VEA priority. It’s HB257, and it passed the Senate and House Friday. The bill removes the requirement that school principals report all discipline incidents that may be misdemeanors to law enforcement. On the floor Friday, some House members tried to connect this bill with some of the gun safety bills that have passed, and tried to build connections that students would become school shooters if principals don’t report all these instances to law enforcement. That is not only false, but morally wrong. What we know is that principals would often prefer to handle these cases as discipline issues and not be required to report them to law enforcement. Here’s the press statement VEA issued after the passage of the bill and its Senate companion:

H 257/SB729: A Commonsense Approach that Relies on Principals’ Professional Expertise

HB257/SB729, supported by the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia School Boards Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Legal Aid Justice Center, gives school officials a tool to manage certain disciplinary infractions without mandatory reporting to law enforcement.

With the advent of “zero-tolerance” approaches to disciplinary infractions, Virginia principals are currently obligated to report even low-level incidents to law enforcement. Professional judgement and skills of these principals are ignored and, as a result, some students, especially minority students, begin a path down the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Current Virginia law also does not allow for considering students’ age or disability status when requiring certain behaviors to be reported to law enforcement. Virginia has no minimum age of criminal responsibility, so even very young elementary students are subject to the current mandate, with no opportunity for school officials to consider such mitigating factors. Similarly, school officials are currently not able to consider context in deciding how students with disabilities that may manifest in certain behaviors are appropriately addressed. HB257/SB729 would allow for more thoughtful analysis before a decision is made on involving law enforcement.

HB257/SB729 still requires that all serious incidents are reported to law enforcement and does not prevent even low-level offenses from being so reported. It also still requires that school administrators inform parents of all incidents directed toward their children. By bringing some discretion back to school officials, these bills would thereby allow input from those parents to help guide some of the decision-making of how to proceed.

Contrary to inflammatory and false statements made about HB257/S 729, this legislation maintains our safe schools while permitting school principals to use their discretion on low-level incidents when conditions warrant.

“This legislation is about removing the zero tolerance policies that push too many students into the criminal justice system, particularly our minority students,” said VEA President Jim Livingston. “It’s time we move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to reporting and tap into the experience and expertise of our front-line school principals.”

Statement made by the Virginia Education Association, Virginia School Boards Association, Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, and Legal Aid Justice Center.