, Press Release

New Hanover County Holds Signing Ceremony for School Justice Partnership Renewal

The SJP memorandum aims to keep kids in school and out of court. 

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Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening will join New Hanover County community leaders on Tuesday, June 18, for a signing ceremony for the renewal of its School Justice Partnership (SJP). The SJP memorandum, also known as the Interagency Governance Agreement on the Handling of School Offenses, reduces law enforcement involvement in minor misconduct at schools, keeping kids in school and out of court.

“We are very pleased here in North Carolina that we raised the age at which young people can be charged in criminal court as an adult,” said Chief Justice Beasley. “We know that we can further increase the likelihood of success for these young people by reducing the number of referrals into our criminal justice system and are excited about empowering local leaders working together collaboratively and giving our young people improved opportunities for success.”

Community leaders in attendance at the signing ceremony included: 

  • Interim Director McKinley Wooten, N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts 
  • Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley, New Hanover County Schools
  • Chairwoman Lisa Estep, New Hanover County Board of Education
  • District Attorney Ben David, New Hanover and Pender Counties
  • Chief of Police Ralph Evangelous, Wilmington Police Department
  • Chief Deputy Ken Sarvis, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office
  • Mayor Bill Saffo, City of Wilmington
  • Chairman Jonathan Barfield, New Hanover County Commissioners

New Hanover County’s SJP resulted in a 47 percent decrease in referrals to the juvenile justice system in its first year. According to a 5-year trend analysis from the Department of Public Safety (DPS), New Hanover’s school based complaints have decreased by 67% since FY 2013-14. Also, New Hanover is among the top 11 counties with the largest decrease in school based referrals. 

“The work I’ve done on School Justice Partnerships is some of the most rewarding work I’ve done in my entire career,” said Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening. “I’m thrilled that New Hanover County has embraced the work, and look forward to working with stakeholders across the great state of North Carolina as we work together to improve outcomes for children.”

North Carolina is working to implement School Justice Partnerships in all 100 counties as a result of the state’s Raise the Age law,which will increase the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18. The legislation, which becomes effective December 1, 2019, authorizes the development of SJPs in each county with a goal of reducing in-school arrests, suspensions, and expulsions. In addition to New Hanover, SJPs have been established in Brunswick, Greene, Lenoir, Mecklenburg, Stanly and Wayne Counties. 


The main goal of the SJP is to keep kids in school and out of court for routine misconduct at school. The School Justice Partnership is a group of community stakeholders—including school administrators, the law enforcement community, court system actors, juvenile justice personnel, and others— 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 student misconduct. 

Currently, many students are suspended, expelled, and referred to court for minor misconduct which produces harmful outcomes for youth and their communities. Students who are suspended and expelled are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and engage in higher levels of disruptive behavior. A single suspension also triples the likelihood that a student will enter the juvenile justice system. These negative outcomes disproportionately impact certain students, including youth of color and students with disabilities, who are more likely to be suspended, expelled, and referred to court than their peers

SJPs across the nation have produced better outcomes for students. Judge Steven Teske’s program in Clayton County, Georgia, known as the “Clayton County School Referral Reduction Protocol,” 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.