RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill that would restore mandatory reporting requirements for some crimes committed in school could make a Republican campaign promise a reality.
The new state law emerged as a focus for the GOP after Loudoun County Public Schools made headlines for the handling of two sexual assault cases. School officials were accused of a cover up, even while arguing they reported both incidents to law enforcement as required for student felony offenses under state law.
Despite disagreement over whether the policy change had anything to do with the way those cases unfolded, Attorney General Jason Miyares is currently investigating and the General Assembly is revisiting the law.
“We never should have passed this law. This is our chance to repeal it,” said Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) during a debate in the House of Delegates on Monday.
The debate traces back to a bill that took effect in 2020, giving school principals discretion over when to tell police about student misdemeanor offenses.
Under the law, felony reporting requirements remained in place and parental notification policies didn’t change, according to bill sponsor Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond). McClellan said the goal was to keep kids out of the criminal justice system for low-level offenses after one report found Virginia was the worst state in the nation for referring students to law enforcement.
“It was disproportionately children of color and children with disabilities who were getting caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline for things that could be handled through the discipline process or through intervention with the children involved,” McClellan said in an interview.
Garren Shipley, a spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, said an earlier version of HB4 would’ve repealed the 2020 law entirely and restored the zero-tolerance policies of the past.
In its current form, Shipley said the bill is essentially identical to legislation that previously passed with broad bipartisan support before changes later in the legislative process prompted GOP push back in the House. Several Republicans continued to support it in the Senate.
Delegate Scott Wyatt (R-Hanover) said his bill reinstates reporting requirements for crimes like stalking, threats against school personnel, sexual battery and assault and battery cases that result in injury.
The bill is a core component of Attorney General Jason Miyares’ legislative agenda.
“This is a common sense issue. I think if you ask parents ‘do you think the police should be notified if there are misdemeanor sexual assaults happening at your school,’ I think overwhelmingly parents are going to say yes on that,” Miyares said in a recent interview.
Wyatt said the bill also specifically addresses shootings, stabbings, abductions, firearm possession and illegal conduct involving explosives. The bill also requires the reporting of felony drug or alcohol offenses like distribution but not misdemeanor simple possession.
“Again, charges may not come forward on every case but we have an expectation that, when we send them off to school each and every day, that the school should be a safe environment,” Wyatt said.
McClellan took issue with the scaled-back bill, which got bipartisan support in the House Education Committee last week.
“I think that targeted approach still takes away agency from the child and the family on whether or not something should be reported,” McClellan said.
On Monday, an effort from Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) to amend the bill failed on the House floor. It would’ve scrapped language requiring the reporting of threats to school personnel over fears that it could criminalize students with disabilities with no intention of harming anyone.
“It is too broad,” Rasoul said. “The first step in the school-to-prison pipeline is the referral to law enforcement and we want to do everything we can to be mindful about that referral process.”
If the bill passes in the House as early as Tuesday, the Democrat-controlled Senate will still have the opportunity to make changes down the road.