When Democrats regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates in November 2019, one of the first things they did was pass a law that says school officials do not have to report misdemeanor crimes – specifically singling out “sexual assaults” – to law enforcement. Two years later, with Republicans back in control of that chamber, Democrats do not support its repeal.
Former Democratic Governor Ralph Northam signed off on the law in February 2020. Schools are currently not required to report to police misdemeanors related to instances of sexual battery, assault, violent threats, stalking, drug and alcohol violations, and more.
Rapes would be a felony, so the law does not impact them, but lesser forms of unwanted, coercive sexual contact can be considered misdemeanor sexual battery.
On February 1 of this year, the GOP majority-led House of Delegates passed a bill to repeal the law 59 to 40. Now the measure will head to the Senate – where Democrats have a slim majority.
“[The bill] is too broad,” Democratic Delegate Sam Rasoul said last Monday, as reported by WRIC. “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.”
Democratic Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who sponsored the 2020 law, said previously: “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.”
The largest teachers union in the state, the Virginia Education Association, also supported Northam’s law while pushing the “school-to-prison pipeline” idea. “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,” then-President Jim Livingston said.
Other Senate Democrats could not be reached for comment, including Barbara Favola and Jennifer Boysko, who represent parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.
Elizabeth Lancaster, a Virginia family law attorney who represented both girls assaulted in Loudoun County, which The Daily Wire first reported, said in an interview that if the law is repealed, law enforcement might receive many calls on incidents that wouldn’t make sense to pursue. But she added that when you give schools discretion to choose what is reported, things can get swept under the rug.
“I certainly think any sexual act and unwanted touching of a body part needs to be reported to law enforcement, period,” she said.
Lancaster also told The Daily Wire that bias is one of the issues with schools having discretion on what incidents to report to law enforcement. She said reporting all events to police removes subjectivity that can allow for disparate or improper treatment.
Many Republicans have pushed back on Democrats’ notion of the school-to-prison pipeline. Attorney General Jason Miyares — who recently launched an investigation into Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) after it appeared to cover up a May 2021 rape — supports the law’s repeal. He called it a “common sense issue.”
In an interview with The Daily Wire, Republican Delegate John Avoli, a former Virginia public high school principal, said “sexual battery needs to be reported.”
“If you’re a 17-year-old and you assault someone, the cops pick you up and they charge you. But you do this in a school building, and we don’t charge you. It doesn’t make sense to me. Think about it as a parent. If your daughter is a freshman in high school and she’s assaulted by someone, do you mean I don’t report that? Are you kidding me?” he said.
Sen. Bryce Reeves, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill that “requires that school principals report to law enforcement certain enumerated acts that may constitute a misdemeanor offense and report to the parents of any minor student who is the specific object of such act that the incident has been reported to law enforcement,” told The Daily Wire what the Loudoun County school board did was “criminal and abhorrent.”
“We are tired of being told parents have no rights,” Reeves said.
Republicans say there’s little evidence that school children are being arrested and prosecuted for minor incidents like food fights, and point out that the bill’s language covers a wide range of crimes. They view the measure as necessary in the face of evidence that schools sometimes sweep serious incidents under the rug, or settle severe physical assaults with measures such as “restorative justice circles,” in which the victim and their assailant talk it out.
The issue of transparency has led to parental outrage. In January, a father named Jeff Darr pleaded with the Prince William County School Board for answers after his 13-year old daughter was allegedly assaulted. “Somebody needs to do something,” Darr said. “Because there’s more kids out there …” A spokesperson for Darr indicated to The Daily Wire that he is seeking justice for the alleged assault and thinks the district has tried to make it go away.
Vicki Manning, a school board member in Virginia Beach, was one of those in opposition to the 2020 concealment law. She told The Daily Wire it is imperative that misdemeanors in schools be reported, and it would be up to law enforcement to decide if next steps should be taken – not district administrators.
“We need to make sure parents are aware of these things,” Manning said. “We’ve got to protect our kids. And if it’s reported to law enforcement and they don’t feel it’s appropriate to act on it, I think they’re the right ones to make that decision. Not a school principal.”