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Legislative spotlight: Decriminalizing disruption in school

March 4, 2023

The PJC’s Education Stability Project advocates to combat exclusionary school discipline and school-based policing in public schools, and in this year’s Maryland General Assembly, we’re calling for legislators to pass HB 1114, which would ensure that children cannot be arrested for so-called disruptive behaviors in school.

Currently, anyone including students, may face up to six months in jail for “willfully disturb[ing] or otherwise willfully prevent[ing] the orderly conduct of the activities, administration, or classes” of a school. Md. Code Educ. Sec. 26-101(a). Because virtually any student misbehavior can be characterized as disrupting or disturbing school, police can and do use this statute to arrest students for run-of-the-mill horseplay, talking back, or roaming the hallways. During the 2018-19 school year, 260 students were arrest for disruption, making this one of the most common bases for student arrest. Additionally, because what constitutes “disruption” is undefined and subject to the influences of implicit bias, Black students are arrested for disruption at twice the rate of white students even though there are fewer Black students than white students in Maryland.

Under HB 1114, the criminal penalties for school disruption would no longer apply to students, so that students will no longer face arrest and other law enforcement consequences for relatively minor childhood or adolescent behaviors.