Disorderly Conduct at School — a Case and a Reader Poll

Kids do some appalling things. Last week, the court of appeals decided a case involving conduct at a school event that was beyond the pale. But did it rise to the level of a juvenile offense, i.e., a crime?

The case is In re M.J.G. It began at a charity volleyball game that was being held in an elementary school gym. Two boys seemed to be getting ready to scuffle in the stands. A teacher approached, and saw (a) that other teachers were dealing with the two boys, and (b) that a third boy was waving at her and telling her “don’t stop it, go away.” The teacher asked the third boy, who was in sixth grade at the school, to come down from the bleachers and talk to her about his effort to allow the fight to take place. The boy got angry, eventually coming down from the stands and “body check[ing]” a bystander on his way out of the gym.

The teacher followed the boy into an adjacent hallway where the two met a school resource officer. The boy became agitated, shouting “I’m tired of this [expletive] school, these teachers lying on me.” He turned to the teacher and “postured up chest to chest,” saying “especially you, you [expletive].” Another teacher had come on the scene by then and the boy did the same to her. The resource officer had to restrain the boy and remove him from the hallway. The officer escorted the juvenile to the school office.

A juvenile petition was filed charging the boy with simple assault and with disorderly conduct by disrupting students. The juvenile was adjudicated delinquent. He appealed, arguing in part that the evidence was insufficient to support the disorderly conduct adjudication. The court of appeals affirmed.

The relevant statute is G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6), which makes it unlawful for a person intentionally to cause a “public disturbance” by “disrupt[ing], disturb[ing], or interfere[ing] with the teaching of students” at a school or by “engag[ing] in conduct which disturbs the peace, order, or discipline” at any school. An overview of the offense is contained in Jessica Smith, North Carolina Crimes 513 (7th ed. 2012). The book collects cases in which the court of appeals has tried to draw the line between bad behavior that doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal charge (or, more frequently, a juvenile petition) and misconduct that is severe enough to satisfy the statute.

In this case, the court began its analysis by observing that a violation of the statute requires “substantial interference with, disruption of and confusion of the operation of the school.” Distinguishing cases concerning brief disruptions involving a single class, the court noted that in this case, between 200 and 300 students watched the events unfold in the gym; at least four students were present in the hallway; multiple school personnel were required to respond; and a group of special needs students missed their bus as a result of the commotion arising from the incident.

The result in M.J.G. appears to be consistent with previous decisions under this statute. But the fact that there was sufficient evidence to support the adjudication of juvenile delinquency does not mean that the conduct was best addressed by the filing of a juvenile petition. We haven’t had a poll on the blog in a while so let me put it to you, readers: based on the foregoing description of the facts, if it were up to you, would you address this juvenile’s behavior by filing a juvenile petition, or through the school’s disciplinary procedures?

How would you address this juvenile's behavior?

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