Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Governor Roy Cooper were joined by public officials from across the state today to announce the release of the School Justice Partnership (SJP) Toolkit.
School Justice Partnerships bring together community stakeholders, including law enforcement officials, judges, district attorneys, juvenile court counselors, teachers, and school administrators, who work together to keep kids in school and out of court as a result of routine misconduct at school. SJP stakeholders collaborate to establish specific guidelines for school discipline with a focus on minimizing suspensions, expulsions, and school-based referrals to court for minor misconduct. The SJP Toolkit, provides resources to help develop and implement the SJP, including a model memorandum of understanding and other templates.
“Our courts must be focused on helping our young people be successful. School Justice Partnerships are one of the most important investments in that success we can make,” said Chief Justice Beasley. “We are excited about bringing together our partners in education, in juvenile justice and in law enforcement to help keep our kids in school where they can build toward a bright and promising future.”
In North Carolina, school-based referrals make up about 40% of the referrals to the juvenile justice system. Most of these referrals are for minor, nonviolent transgressions. In the 2016-2017 school year, only 8% of school-based referrals were for serious offenses.
Suspension and expulsion increase the risk that students will drop out of school, repeat a grade, or engage in future delinquent conduct. A single suspension triples the likelihood that a child will enter the juvenile justice system, which itself increases the likelihood of negative outcomes, especially as involvement in the system deepens. Confinement in a juvenile facility, for example, increases the risk that a youth will be rearrested as an adult. For some children, a school-based referral can lead to a permanent criminal record which creates barriers to college financial aid, employment, housing, and military eligibility.
Research has shown that significant disparities exist in school discipline. Youth of color are 2.5 times more likely to be referred to juvenile court and 1.5 times more likely to be placed in secure confinement than white youth. African-American students are 26% of the overall student population, but receive 57% of suspensions. Students with disabilities are 13% of the overall student population, but receive 24% of short-term suspensions and 22.5% of long-term suspensions. Male students are roughly half of the overall student population, but receive 73% of short-term suspensions and 80% of long-term suspensions.
“Our communities must engage with kids to help keep them in school and out of jail,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “The Toolkit planned by the Judicial Branch can help build positive partnerships and I have directed the Juvenile Justice Section of the Department of Public Safety to help with implementing School Justice Partnerships across North Carolina.”
The first School Justice Partnership was implemented in 2004 by Chief Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Georgia, where, utilizing graduated discipline strategies and alternative dispute resolution, local officials saw an 83% decrease in the number of referrals to the court system and saw a 24% increase in graduation rates. North Carolina has seen similar results in counties that have implemented SJPs. In New Hanover county, the School Justice Partnership has contributed to a 67% decrease in school-based referrals since FY 2013-2014.
“School Justice Partnerships transform the relationship between police officers and students from authority and punishment to mentor and restoration,” said Judge Elizabeth Trosch, district court, Mecklenburg County. “When School Justice Partnerships keep kids in school and out of court, schools benefit from higher achievement, improved attendance and better school climate.”
Chief district court judges all across North Carolina will immediately begin convening local stakeholders to implement the partnerships. Efforts are already underway in 15 judicial districts covering 35 counties and SJPs are already in place in the following counties as of July 1, 2019: Brunswick, Greene, Lenoir, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Stanly, Wayne, and Whiteville City Schools.
“Current exclusionary discipline practices push students out of school and into juvenile court; the consequences are devastating,” said Dr. Sharon L. Contreras, superintendent of Guilford County Schools who is also the co-chair for the Council of the Great City Schools’ newly formed Task Force on Young Women and Girls of Color. “By working alongside local law enforcement, the judicial system as well as local and state lawmakers, we can begin to implement real changes that increase our young people’s chances of success. I look forward to this collaborative effort.”
The Toolkit was completed in collaboration with several stakeholder agencies who support the development of SJPs, including the Juvenile Justice Section of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, and the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools.
“The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association is proud to support any project that aims to redirect the lives of potentially troubled or at-risk youth,” said Sheriff John W. Ingram V, president, North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association. “This project is vitally important to our schools, to our law enforcement officers and to community safety. Collaborating with stakeholders from various entities enhances the probability of the program’s success.”
The School Justice Partnership is a group of community stakeholders who work together to establish specific guidelines for school discipline in a way that minimizes suspensions, expulsions and school-based referrals to court for minor misconduct. The main goal of the SJP is to keep kids in school and out of court for routine misconduct at school. SJPs are being developed throughout North Carolina as a result of the state’s recently enacted Raise the Age law.