New Hanover County officials entered an agreement with the school district regarding discipline at the board of commissioners meeting Monday afternoon.
Officially called the Inter-Agency Governance Agreement on the Handling of School Offenses, it brings the county’s schools, law enforcement, justice system, government and other community partners together to provide a consistent policy regarding student discipline.
The idea is to use a graduated response model to deal with offenses and not to involve law enforcement or the court system unless absolutely necessary. Classroom and school interventions, along with other community resources, will be the first line of defense.
“It defines a new way of looking at young people when they do things that make us mad in school,” said Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening II, who gave the presentation to the board of commissioners along with New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Tim Markley. “We’ve been able to agree on some of those minor offenses and how our response will be, how the schools’ response will be, how law enforcement’s response will be.”
Corpening said that by limiting the involvement of law enforcement and school resource officers for small things and getting to the root of the issue – instead of immediately marking them as juvenile offenders – the “school to prison pipeline” would no longer be fed.
“The goal is to change the behavior when it happens, to have learning take place and keep them out of our system,” said Corpening. “I think it’s important that we improve ways that we deal with our young people, improve effectiveness, help them have a better chance at life.”
When asked by Commissioner Woody White how this agreement would immediately affect schools, Markley said that instead of being arrested or cited and having to go to court for something like fighting, students who commit minor offenses (without other mitigating factors) would be disciplined at the school level. This, Markley said, would prevent both the students and the school resource officer from missing school time to go to court and would keep young people out of the system. He also said this could change the way students view law enforcement officials, which could affect positively affect relationships between officers and those they’re in charge of protecting and lead to lower rates of juvenile crime.
“Your police officers now become somebody kids talk to at school, not somebody who’s going to come in, automatically slap cuffs on them and take them downtown,” Markley said. “They become what they’re supposed to, which is a resource for the school.”
According to Corpening, adopting this joint policy would put the county and its school system at the cutting edge of responding to school safety issues.
“This kind of cooperation, this kind of agreement isn’t happening everywhere,” Corpening said.
“This intervention piece is important and it’s critical,” said Commissioner White. “I want to do anything we can to help it down the line – not to allow kids to get away with things, no one’s intending that. I think it’s more of going to the root of the problem and dealing with it.”
The agreement was approved 5-0.