Voices’ Blog

2017 Legislative Session Wrap-Up: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

Posted:  -  By: Allison Gilbreath

Updated February 27, 2017

Virginia is the worst in the nation for referring students to law enforcement. During the 2014-15 school year, Virginia public schools issued over 126,000 out-of-school suspensions to approximately 70,000 individual students —an increase over 2013-14 figures, after at least four years of decline.

In addition, students of color and students with disabilities were disproportionally suspended. Students who are suspended from school are more likely to experience academic failure, mental health problems, substance abuse, gang activity, and justice system involvement.

We are disappointed to share that the two bills with companions in the House and the Senate crafted by our partners at the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center did not pass this session. The bills started a discussion about the school to prison pipeline and received  bi-partisan support after the release of JustChildren’s Suspensions report. Thank you to the more than 100 advocates who responded to our call to action! 

The Bills 

Senate Bill 995 (Stanley) – We supported this bill that originally redefined long-term suspension from 11-365 days to 11- 45 days. We continued to support it after concessions were made to extend the number of days to 60 school days and exceptions for certain school-based offenses.

Result: This bill was defeated in the House on a 39 -56 vote, see you next year! 

House Bill 1534 (Bell) – Originally identical to SB 995, the bill was amended to extend to 90 school days but did not allow for the days to be extended into a new calendar school year.

Result: This bill was left in Senate Education and Health committee, which means that it died.

Senate Bill 997 (Stanley): We supported this measure to protect our youngest children in school from  long-term suspension and expulsion for students in pre-k to 5th grade. After various substitutes, the bill would have allowed for suspension up to 10 school days for children pre-k to 3rd grade and granted exceptions to suspend longer for “260G offenses” defined in the Code of Virginia.

Result: This bill was defeated on the House floor on a 46 – 50 vote, see you next year! 

House Bill 1536 (Bell): Originally identical to SB997, the bill would have allowed for up 5 school days for children pre-k to 3rd grade.

Result: This bill entered into conference (when the Speaker and Lt. Governor appoints a small committee made up of House and Senate legislators to resolve disagreements on a particular bill) but no further action was taken, essentially killing the bill.

Voices will continue to work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline. If you or your organization wants to get involved, please contact Allison at allison@vakids.org and follow our juvenile justice work page. 



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