An Arizona state commission says educators and law enforcement officials deserve a better understanding of what kinds of threats should be referred to police rather than just earning a student a trip to the principal’s office.
A state school safety commission agreed Aug. 7 to revisit legislation enacted by the Legislature in 2000 following the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.
That law allows felony prosecution for disrupting a school. Previous laws allowed only misdemeanor charges and made it difficult to prosecute some threat cases if threats were against schools, not individuals.
More than 500 Pima County students faced felony charges for school threats last school year, the first year of the new law.
Though many of the charges were dismissed or reduced, the students will carry felony arrests on their records, while students arrested for possession of a gun on school grounds face misdemeanor charges under state law.
While the new law has been helpful, it is unclear to judges, police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and educators what disruption means, said Jerry Landau, a special assistant Maricopa County attorney. As it is, “disrupt” could be defined broadly or narrowly, Landau added.
The commission’s co-chairman, Sen. Chris Cummiskey, D-Phoenix, agreed that the commission should try to clarify the law but expressed satisfaction that prosecutors in the state’s counties “are using a fair amount of discretion.”
There had been some concern, Cummiskey noted, that prosecutors would exhibit “zero tolerance” and press felony charges against all violators in adult court.