Committee members urged that giving students a felony might be too harsh.

House committee rejects bill to create student felony assault

Jarek RutzGovernment, Headlines

Committee members urged that giving students a felony might be too harsh.

Committee members urged that giving students a felony might be too harsh.

A week after the Milford School District was placed on lockdown and subsequently closed to ensure student safety, a new bill was introduced to the General Assembly to punish those who commit assault in schools. 

House Bill 22, sponsored by Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, makes intentionally or recklessly causing physical injury to an employee, contractor or subcontractor of a public or private elementary or secondary school an assault in the second degree, which is considered a felony. 

This Act is known as “The School Personnel Protection Act,” and was brought upon the House Education Committee Wednesday afternoon.

One thing was for sure: both sides of the aisle agreed that school safety – both for students and staff – as well as discipline for poor behavior, is an issue that needs to be addressed.

But many Democrats argued that Yearick’s bill is not the answer. 

The main concern was that it isn’t right or effective to put children, many who might have cognitive disabilities, and all whose brains aren’t fully developed, into the criminal system. 

Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Newark, said the bill would contribute to the school to prison pipeline. 

“One thing that you’ve said twice now that’s really shocked me is that  in terms of the bill, it doesn’t matter whether the actions are intentional or unintentional or unintentional. And that’s very disturbing to me, because intentions definitely do matter.

Yearick noted that this year alone, there have been more than 50 charges for assault. 

He also admitted he has no evidence that this would prevent issues in schools, but said he wanted to offer some solution. 

Several legislators, and members of the public, gave personal anecdotes of when they were in school and someone misbehaved, or if their child had an incident in school in the past – they wouldn’t want it resulting in felony charges.

Rep. Sherae’a Moore, D-Middletown, who was against the bill, said she appreciates Yearick’s sentiment with having teachers and students’ safety at the forefront of discussion.

The committee also acknowledged that the General Assembly recently established a school climate task force, and several said they wanted to wait until that committee got to work before voting on a bill like Yearick’s. 

The bill was ultimately not released by the committee.

A bill that was released was House Bill 312, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton and committee chair, which requires school board members to undergo training in financial responsibility. 

The school board president would be tasked with informing each new member of the board of the training obligation. 

A school board president must also send a letter by January 15 of every year to any school board member who has not fulfilled the training obligation by January 1 following that member’s election or appointment.

RELATED: School board members: Newly elected can have swift impact

Several current board members across Delaware, notably Don Patton in Christina School District, have said that training for new board members is critical to be effective.

HB 312 heads to the House floor for discussion. 

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