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Legislation introduced will end double jeopardy for students in Delaware

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

Children that run into trouble in the community are facing a type of double jeopardy from their school and the Department of Justice.

But House Bill 396 would limit when the DOJ would be able to contact a students’ school when they are charged with certain crimes.

Prime Sponsor State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker (D-Wilmington) says removing students from school for unrelated crimes takes away their safe haven and overwhelms them.

“When our children find themselves in precarious situations, we need to create opportunities for them to succeed," said Dorsey Walker. "Everybody in life has needed a second chance. There is not one among us that has not needed a second chance.”

When a student is arrested or charged with certain crimes, the Department of Justice sends a letter to their school, notifying them of the incident regardless of whether it had anything to do with the school, which can lead to further discipline like suspension or even expulsion.

She emphasizes the bill’s sponsors are not excusing or condoning any sort of crime among youth, but don’t believe they should be punished twice – particularly when that means missing out on valuable class time.

“Nine times out of ten a child will tell a school counselor or a teacher with whom they have a very strong relationship that something happened in the community,” Dorsey Walker said. “This piece of legislation also states that we can provide social and emotional assistance for that child, versus putting our children in a situation where they are penalized twice.”

Dorsey Walker says removing a child from their education is not a solution, and are actually likely to become more involved with the criminal justice system.

Also, under the legislation, schools can only take disciplinary action if it is necessary to protect the school community after a case is resolved, not under a pending charge.

Dorsey Walker says she is confident in the legislation and believes there is enough support in the General Assembly for it to pass.

The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.