Possible change ahead to 'disturbing schools' charge in South Ca - FOX Carolina 21

Possible change ahead to 'disturbing schools' charge in South Carolina

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SPARTANBURG, SC (FOX Carolina) -

What it means to be charged with disturbing schools in South Carolina could change this year as some lawmakers work to clear up the current law they say is too vague and is making criminals out of students who don't deserve it.

There are concerns, however, that it could limit what charges are placed on students who are breaking the law.  The bill has already passed in the Senate and the House Judiciary Committee will take it up next.  It just passed out of a House subcommittee on Thursday.

We spoke with 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette, who has had concerns about the change, and said he just wants to make sure our schools are safe.

"I just want to make sure we have laws in place to protect our students and protect our teachers as well as law enforcement that goes to the schools," said Barnette. 

Right now, one of the charges that can be used if a student makes a threat is is disturbing schools, something Barnette says he only recommends if the offense is serious enough.

"In our circuit we use it very sparingly. We use other laws when we can, like public disorderly conduct, assault and battery," Barnette said. "With school threats that are made on Facebook, Instagram or social media, we have to have something to be able to charge in those cases."

There's a bill being considered that would alter when a student could be charged with disturbing schools.  It was passed last year in the Senate, and is headed to the House Judiciary Committee.

Senator Mia McLeod of Richland County sponsored the legislation.

"The bill would allow the School Resource Officers to do what, within the schools, what they are there to do, and that is, protect the students from outside agitators," said McLeod. "The only time students would be arrested or subject to arrest under the bill is if they have been suspended or expelled from school and they return to the school grounds to do harm or threaten to do harm to others, or if they threaten to blow up the school or shoot up the school or threaten another teacher or student or anybody on school property in any way."

The Senator says the lines between who should be disciplining students for minor infractions has gotten blurred, and when students get charged it stays on their records.

"We've had a number of issues where students as young as 2nd grade have been put into at risk schools for blowing bubbles in class and misbehaving in class," said McLeod.

The bill just passed out of subcommittee and will head to the full House Judiciary Committee now.

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