8 Investigates

Bills proposed to keep school disputes out of courtrooms

(WRIC) -- Monty Howard was a freshman at New Kent High School when he was attacked. “I went into the restroom on the second day of school and was hit in the back of the head,” said the now 17-year-old Howard. 

What started as an Instagram chat room conversation with classmates quickly escalated into cyberbullying and violence.

"They soon started making verbal threats to me and one threatened to come to my house after posting a few pictures of guns,” explained Howard.

On Monday, he admitted to a room full of parents fighting for reform in Virginia schools that he retaliated.

Then 16-years old, Howard says he threatened to shoot the students who threatened him if they came to his home. He claims he didn't really mean it.

"To me it wasn't even a threat,” he says.

The school district quickly referred his case to police and the 16-year-old found himself facing criminal charges.  

"Later they issued three felony warrants against him,” said his grandmother Gladys Howard. Monty's grandmother fought back.

"Sixteen years old never been in any trouble, never given me any trouble, to all of a sudden being thrust into the juvenile system,” she said.

After community service and law classes, the charges against Monty were expunged.

While some argue schools can't take any threats lightly, some parents and lawmakers argue the courtroom is no place for addressing school discipline.  

Gladys believes rushing to get the police involved rather than talking with students and teaching dispute resolution leads kids down a “school to prison pipeline.”

"I believe there were other ways they could have handled it. And I think the school system took it too far,” says Howard.

Several lawmakers, Delegate Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond,  Mike Mullin, D-Newport News and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, have introduced bills that would limit criminal charges for student misbehavior or classmate beefs.

The bills filed in both the House and Senate would prohibit students from being found guilty of disorderly conduct in school. It’s a charge that could carry jail time.

According to published reports, Virginia's Department of Juvenile Justice logged more than 7,000 disorderly conduct complaints made against Virginia school kids between 2013 and 2018.

"I was just shocked,” says Monty about the action the school took.

He tells 8News, he is now one class away getting his GED and going to college.

"It could have went a lot worse," he said. 

Senate Bill 1107, from Sen. McClellan, passed on Feb. 5. The bill will now go to the House Committees for Courts of Justice.

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