NORFOLK, Va. - Lawmakers have passed a school discipline bill, but some are questioning whether it's too lenient.
The bill would allow principals to decide whether to report low-level criminal activity to police. Current law says they have to report all potential crimes, but supporters of the bill say some incidents can be resolved in the school without law enforcement.
An amended version of the bill has now passed both the House of Delegates and Senate. The bill itself does not require principals to report certain misdemeanors, including stalking and sexual battery, leading to the backlash.
"I can't believe my ears," said Republican leader Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) when questioning the bill's sponsor, Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) about the amendments.
Del. Gilbert posted video of his exchange with Del. Mullin,which generated thousands of responses.
Mullin says a different part of the law still would require sexual battery to be reported, referencing a law requiring teachers to report abuse.
Still, Republicans say the bill doesn't offer enough protections. "If you have a kid in school and she has been the victim of sexual battery or stalking or there's a protective order that you went and got and they violated it, yes that is something that some of us think law enforcement should at least be notified about," said Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle).
Supporters say it would help reduce the number of kids being reported to police, lessening the school-to-prison pipeline."They want the same authority and discretion to exercise judgment in how we refer students to law enforcement as prosecutors and intake officers and so many other people do have in the criminal justice system." said Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville).
“This legislation is about removing the zero-tolerance policies that push too many students into the criminal justice system, particularly our minority students,” said Virginia Education Association 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.”
The bill is now awaiting Gov. Northam's signature.