South Carolina Legislature Repeals Racist ‘Disturbing School’ Law for Students

In 2015, video surfaced of a police officer violently dragging a Black girl from her school desk. He was arresting her, and using shockingly excessive force, because she was “disturbing school,” a vague law that more or less made it a crime for a student to be loud, to talk back to staff or school police. In other words, it criminalized being a kid. 

Unsurprisingly, this law has disproportionately affected students of color, who are already over-policed outside the school walls, so we sued in August 2016. Last week, we scored a victory on behalf of all students who have been pulled into the maze of the state’s criminal justice system.

On Thursday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an amendment repealing the crime of disturbing schools for students in the state of South Carolina. The importance of this law being signed cannot be understated. Its passage will eliminate a major source of the school-to-prison pipeline, which has caused grievous and lifelong harm to students across South Carolina. 

In addition to the immediate harms of being arrested and subjected to the criminal justice system, students are also subject to more severe discipline that can include expulsion or assignment to alternative programs that fail to provide a pathway to graduation. Stigma and further disconnect from school are also likely to follow, increasingly jeopardizing school success. And a criminal record alone can close the door to employment, college, and housing opportunities. 

When we filed our lawsuit, thousands of youth were arrested each year for things like talking to another student after being sent out of class, cursing in the lunchroom, and even for speaking out against police misconduct.  The vague terms of the law, which criminalized youth considered disturbing or obnoxious at school, also allowed for disparate and discriminatory enforcement. 

Our review found that across the state, Black youth were nearly four times as likely as their white classmates to be deemed criminally disturbing school. In Charleston, Black youth were a staggering six times more likely to be charged with the offense, and disturbing school was the number one reason youth entered the juvenile justice system. 

Sadly yet unsurprisingly, the circumstances in South Carolina are consistent with those found in many other jurisdictions. Across the country, Black youth and students of color, as well as students with disabilities, are more likely to be disciplined and arrested in school. Our culture of mass punishment that starts in schools is partly to blame. The law’s wording itself is also partly to blame. Disparities are more likely to be found when an offense is defined using subjective terms, allowing implicit bias to creep in and be weaponized by the Orwellian-named “school resource officers,” who are nothing more than cops in school. 

In South Carolina and elsewhere, the impacts are devastating for youth. For example, when children are pushed into the juvenile justice system from school, they are less likely to graduate and more likely to have future involvement with the criminal justice system. Fortunately, research on adolescent development has led to the creation of many school-based approaches to youth behavior that are more effective for both schools and children. 

In the year after we filed our lawsuit, the Department of Juvenile Justice reported a sharp decline in disturbing schools arrests. Schools, police, and communities were beginning to change their approach to school children.  The repeal of the disturbing schools crime for students is a further substantial step in the right direction for South Carolina’s students. We will continue to fight to ensure that no young person is treated as a criminal simply for being a child. No child’s education should be disturbed by racist and backward, and now illegal, “disturbing schools” laws anywhere in this country. 

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Anonymous

Congratulations. You just destroyed the SC public school system. By all means pat yourselves on the back. We pulled our children out of the SC school systems. We just got tired of talking to the local school officials about our kids being told by the poor innocent repressed little African American chillren that they were "gonna cut em". I also want to say thank you for nationalising tge education system. Gutting recess... gutting vocational programs so every child can get their dead end college education. Measuring every student with the same standardized test. Thank you. Thank you thank you. Thank you for forcing schools to keep reprocessing students until they are 20 years old and letting them freely mingle with 14 year olds.
You want an education...why don't you interview on of those young doey eyed teacher transplants that comes to Charleston through the Teach America AFTER about three years in the program. Ask THEM how those students treat them as white teachers. Yea.. we are all just a bunch of howling racist red necks...just hanging around for the next KKK meeting... You people make me sick. YOU are the reason we pulled out and walked away from public education.

Anonymous

I think your still upset over losing the Cival War.
Your spewing of Hate shows your ignorance.
I can see you are a Dumb-Ass

Anonymous

Couldn't you have just sent your kid to Wando- The successful white (and preppy black) public school? Or Magnet? (Were your kids to dumb to get in, or you to poor to live east of the cooper... its cheaper than private school you know- maybe you should take a class on financial literacy) The Article is about sending kids to juvy and processing them as criminals for disrupting school - a law that I've seen arbitrarily applied against a classmate a principal had a vendetta against. While the ACLU has put their "let kids be kids" spin on it that sounds fake and stupid (offence absolutely meant, ACLU, you sound like idiots) surely you don't want kids pulled from school and put directly in jail for any arbitrary reasoning a teacher, principal, or school cop comes up with, and given a record before their life even starts. Yet you agree with kids, who are 6:1 black, stuck directly in jail and given a criminal record for being disruptive in school??? The judicial system seems more apathetic to a young white men accused of sexual assault (bless their hearts they have their whole lives ahead of them, am I right?). Come on, we know you're not ignorant, you're just an indignant self righteous bigot who's pretending to be ignorant.

Bodhisattva Smith

Great job! Two organizations my wife and I support wholeheartedly, the ACLU and the SPLC.

Anonymous

Teach your damn kids some respect for athority and maybe they'll stay out of jail!

Anonymous

Ok, I agree that this law went too far by making disturbing school a crime. So now what is to be done when a student is so terribly disturbing that he/she can't be controlled by the faculty? Who did they call? What CAN they do?

Anonymous

The reality of your organization and it's goals is the systematic destruction of our democratic way of life. You assume your efforts and goals are protecting people but in reality you are challenging the credible knowledge and common sense of the majority. You are nothing more than a power hungry organization that plays god in the stupid assumption that your are smarter and wiser than "We the people"! Rocks are more intelligent and smarter than you.

Anonymous

This is ridiculous. As a parent of children in South Carolina schools, I'm infuriated that this law was repealed. By repealing this law we are going to see more unreported crimes at schools. It puts my children at risk for harm. This is the liberal left trying to squash crime reports of mostly minority children for political sake. As a parent it's our responsibility to teach our children respect for one's elders i.e. teachers and the like. If these children can talk back or physically assault their teachers without any consequences what kind of future behavior can you expect from them? Criminal behavior that's what. I'm ashamed of my governor and will not be voting for him in the future election.

Anonymous

Did you see the Video?
The police brutality on a child, is that acceptable to you?
I am assuming your child is white ?
Have you ever been profiled ?

Anonymous

You think it may have something to do that they are the ones that cause more trouble

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