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Lawmakers will consider how much say school officials have over crime reporting

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How much discretion should school officials have about contacting law enforcement when they suspect a crime has been committed? A bill that would take away some of that discretion will be considering when the General Assembly meets in January.

Back in 2020, lawmakers were interested in finding ways to eliminate what some people call the school-to-prison pipeline. So they passed a bill that eliminated the requirement that principals report suspected misdemeanors to law enforcement. Ben Kiser at the Virginia Association of School Superintendents says that ended up creating new problems.

"In all practicality, that language may have caused some confusion in local school divisions as to when to report and when not to report," Kiser says. "So I'm not sure the intent of the original bill was fulfilled by reducing the number of referrals to law enforcement."

After a high-profile incident involving students in Loudoun County, Republican Senator John Cosgrove of Chesapeake is now introducing a bill to undo the previous bill and require principals report suspected misdemeanors.

"This bill just basically says if you commit a criminal offense, and misdemeanors can be criminal offenses, they have to be reported to law enforcement," Cosgrove says. "And that creates a public record. Parents need to know what's going on in their schools."

Concerns about the involvement of parents in public education was central to the election of Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor. But he'll still have to deal with a Senate controlled by Democrats, which will be taking up Senator Cosgrove's bill in January.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.