Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to The Wilson Times.
Reducing law enforcement involvement in misconduct at school is one way leaders in Greene and Lenoir counties are trying to keep kids in school and out of court.
Judges serving those communities were joined by law enforcement officers and school leaders on Friday to launch the School-Justice Partnership in Greene and Lenoir counties.
Representatives signed what they called a Partnership Agreement Community Teams with Schools document that outlines strategies for addressing student misconduct.
“The strategies implemented by the PACTS agreement address minor juvenile misconduct in a way that provides more accountability for juveniles and their parents than the adult court system, which does not involve parents in the process,” said District Court Judge Elizabeth Heath. “It is particularly important for the public to know that this process not only considers the juvenile but also focuses on keeping schools and the surrounding communities safe.”
Often when students are suspended and expelled for bad behavior, they are referred to court, according to a news release from the partnership. The release said students are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school and engage in higher levels of disruptive behavior, according to a 2011 report by the New York the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, and that disabled students are more than twice as likely to be suspended than students without disabilities.
North Carolina data shows that while student with disabilities represent 13 percent of the overall North Carolina student population, they receive 24 percent of short-term suspensions and 22.5 percent of long-term suspensions. The report also found that black students were 4.4 times more likely than white students to receive a short-term suspension and 4.9 times more likely than white students to receive a long-term suspension.
Partnership members believe keeping kids in school and addressing their misconduct where and when it happens will help them learn from their mistakes and be successful in school.
They point to a program operating in Clayton County, Georgia.
Called “Clayton County School Referral Reduction Protocol,” it resulted in a 67.4 percent decrease in referrals to juvenile court, a 43 percent decrease in referrals of youth of color to juvenile court and a 24 percent increase in graduation rates. Similar programs in Texas and Connecticut also have experienced positive results.
In North Carolina, New Hanover County’s School-Justice Partnership resulted in a 47 percent decrease in referrals to the juvenile justice system in its first year. The Greene and Lenoir counties’ SJP hopes to produce similar outcomes for youth in this community, the news release said.
School-Justice Partnerships are being developed throughout the state as a result of the recently enacted Raise the Age law that raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes to age 18, effective Dec. 1, 2019.
Heath participated in a recent ceremony in Kinston to kick off the program along with Chief District Court Judge David Brantley, Judge Les Turner, Greene County Sheriff Lemmie Smith, Greene County Schools Superintendent Patrick Miller and school board chairwoman Patricia Adams; and Lenoir County Superintendent Brent Williams, school board Chairman Jon Sargeant and Kinston Police Chief Alonzo Jaynes.