Senate votes to bring back misdemeanor reporting requirements for school principals

The legislation now heads to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who listed it as a legislative priority

By: - February 21, 2022 3:12 pm

The Virginia Senate. (2020 file photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Democrats in the Virginia Senate joined with Republicans on Monday to roll back a 2020 law making it optional for principals and superintendents to report many misdemeanor-level offenses to law enforcement.

The legislation, sponsored by Del. Scott Wyatt, R-Hanover, will once again require notification in the case of many offenses committed on school property, including possession of drugs or alcohol and written threats against school personnel. The bill passed the House with similar bipartisan support earlier this month and is all but certain to be signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who listed it as a priority on his legislative agenda.

“As another priority from his game one day plan moves through the legislative process, the governor looks forward to reviewing it when it comes to his desk because reporting incidents in schools is critically important for the safety of kids across Virginia,” said Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin.

Monday’s 27-13 Senate vote signaled a significant departure for both Democrats and many Republicans, who voted in favor of the 2020 law making misdemeanor reporting optional for local school districts. In 2015, Virginia made headlines as the worst state in the nation when it came to student referrals to law enforcement. In the five intervening years, lawmakers from both parties proposed similar bills to loosen incident reporting requirements for school administrators.

House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, looks out over the chamber from the dais. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

When legislation passed in 2020, though, it was widely decried by House Republicans, with now-House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, describing it as “a policy that will make our students, teachers, and school personnel significantly less safe.” It later became a political flashpoint during the 2021 race between newly sworn-in Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Youngkin, who made parental involvement in public education a central focus of his campaign platform, seized a controversial sexual assault case in Loudoun County as more evidence that Virginia schools weren’t being held accountable to parents. As a potentially felony crime, the incident would still have fallen under the law’s mandatory reporting requirements, and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office later confirmed that the district disclosed both assaults.

That didn’t stop Republicans from connecting the case to the new law. The governor specifically mentioned the 2020 law in a campaign ad featuring the case, according to reporting from Politico. House leaders also claimed the law made it easier for the school district to cover up the assaults.

State Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

This year’s efforts to roll back the legislation were supported by Democratic leadership in the Senate, including Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, who chairs the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. Both Saslaw and Howell supported the 2020 law along with Senate Republicans including Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, and Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford, who also voted Monday in favor of Wyatt’s bill. 

The Senate slightly modified the legislation, giving school administrators the option to report threats against school personnel if they’re committed by students with an individualized education plan, or IEP — commonly provided to children with learning disabilities or other special needs. 

The changes didn’t convince the bill’s opponents, including Senate Education Chair Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who presented the legislation on the Senate floor for a final vote.

“I guess I have to move that the bill pass,” she said. “Even though I’m a nay.”

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Kate Masters
Kate Masters

An award-winning reporter, Kate grew up in Northern Virginia before moving to the Midwest, earning her degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She spent a year covering gun violence and public health for The Trace in Boston before joining The Frederick News-Post in Frederick County, Md. While at the News-Post, she won first place in feature writing and breaking news from the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, and Best in Show for her coverage of the local opioid epidemic. Before joining the Mercury in 2020, she covered state and county politics for the Bethesda Beat in Montgomery County, Md.

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