Update: Following this report, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has asked members of his cabinet to recommend policy changes in order to reverse schools’ staggering rate of referrals to the juvenile justice system. 

Ever walk or drive by a school and see a police officer stationed on campus? That’s probably a “school resource officer.” He or she is there to – ostensibly – keep the criminal element at bay (i.e., protect the students from drugs, guns and gangs).

Increasingly, though, these officers are being brought in to deal with discipline issues. Some kids aren’t coming home just with suspensions, but also criminal charges. And a disproportionate number of students referred to cops and courts are minorities and special needs children.

Susan Ferriss from The Center for Public Integrity heads to Lynchburg, Virginia, to speak with one family whose 11-year-old son, who has autism, was charged with disorderly conduct and felony assault based on incidents at school – one of which resulted in the boy being taken to the juvenile courthouse in handcuffs.

The rate of students referred to law enforcement in Virginia is almost three times the national rate. If you want to see how many minority and disabled students your state refers to police and courts, check out The Center for Public Integrity’s graphic.

DIG DEEPER

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.