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Agreement to divert minor disciplinary incidents from court ready for public feedback

SALISBURY — The Rowan School Justice Partnership is looking for feedback from the community on its effort to formalize strategies for addressing school-based misconduct.

The event will be held online from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday via the virtual meeting platform, Zoom. The meeting link is available on the events page of the partnership’s website, rowanschooljusticepartnership.org. Attendees may also request that the link be emailed to them by contacting rowanschooljustice@gmail.com.

The partnership was formed in 2019 with the goal of keeping school-age children out of the court system for minor discipline issues. The partnership is comprised of the following agencies: Rowan-Salisbury Schools; the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office; the police departments of Salisbury, China Grove, Cleveland, East Spencer, Granite Quarry/Faith, Kannapolis, Landis, Rockwell and Spencer; the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice for the 19th Judicial District; the Office of the District Attorney for Prosecutorial District 27; Rowan County Department of Social Services; Cardinal Innovations; and the District Court of the 19C Judicial District.

The partnership has been working for over a year to develop a memorandum of understanding that proposes a graduated, age-appropriate response model for addressing school-based misconduct within the school system and the community, rather than by a referral to the justice system, said Rowan District Court Judge Marshall Bickett, the partnership’s convener and organizer.

The memorandum of understanding also works to ensure a consistent response to incidents of student misbehavior, clarify the role of law enforcement in school disciplinary matters, efficiently use alternative support services and reduce involvement of law enforcement and court agencies for minor misconduct at school and school-related events.

“Rowan County has been a leader in North Carolina in its efforts to identify and to provide diversion alternatives to juvenile court for nonviolent, minor offenses. The draft memorandum of understanding we are proposing formalizes our philosophy about and policies toward addressing student misconduct. It also calls for the regular collection and analysis of data to determine whether disciplinary and law enforcement actions are being applied without bias or partiality,” Bickett said.

Bickett added that, even after adoption, the proposed agreement will remain a work in progress, with regular monitoring and, if necessary, changes.

“We know this isn’t perfect. That is why we want to hear from the public,” Bickett said.

He said the partnership believes that the work will help reduce the number of suspensions, expulsions and referrals to the justice system by constructively and timely addressing student misconduct when and where it happens.

Bickett has said organizers don’t want to divert dangerous activity, but disciplinary action for incidents of students yelling in the hallway or being disruptive in class should not be decided in court.

The memorandum of understanding will help students succeed in school and prevent negative outcomes for them and the community, Bickett said.

To review the draft Memorandum of Understanding visit the Rowan School Justice Partnership website. For more information, contact rowanschooljustice@gmail.com.

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