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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5 thoughts on “Disorderly Conduct at School — a Case and a Reader Poll”

  1. I imagine the teacher demanded rather than asked the student to come down from the stands, probably goading the kid into bad/illegal behavior. Before the teacher confronted the kid the kid had told the teacher not to interfere in the potential altercation between 2 other students. That by itself is not illegal. It sounds as if the teacher and other school officials handled the situation poorly. Although it fits the criteria for a juvenile petition I think it should have been handled through school discipline instead.

  2. I spent over five years prosecuting juvenile court. Parents have turned to the schools to discipline their children, and the schools are turning to the courts. I am not going to judge how the teachers handled this matter, having grown up the daughter of an educator, and understanding that too many parents leave the schools to raise their children. But too many times as a prosecutor, and now as a defense attorney, I have seen children who got into fights, or made mistakes that continued to be perpetuated by the fact that their cases were drug into juvenile court by the school system. A fight is a perfect example – two kids argue, hit each other, and get over it. The school suspends them for however many days. Yet, it can take up to 60 days for the petition to be filed, then a court date, then adjudication (again, depending on jurisdiction), maybe a continuance thrown in for good measure. Also by its own definition, school prosecutions have school witnesses – administrators who need to be supervising, teachers who need to be in the classroom teaching, and students who need to be in the classroom learning. Then you are back to the parents – who either 1. assume their child is the victim – and had nothing to do with the altercation, or 2. have no interest in their child testifying – either because they are missing school, or because they don’t want their child to be involved – due to fear, missing work, or whatever inconvenience. And I’ve been in the final category – my own step-daughter was harassed at school – the parents were up in arms, and wanted to press charges against an 11-year old. My husband and I, who know the system, refused. The juvenile system isn’t supposed to be the back-up for good parenting, or for the school disciplinary code.

  3. I would have said what Anna Goodwin said, but since she already said it… If parents took responsibility for their children’s actions, this would not be necessary. However, everyone is the victim and no one is the perpetrator. Then, the schools adopt a “zero tolerance” policy, which effectively means they put everything in court. By the time these kids reach the age of 16, they have no respect for the courts because the courts have not respected them, or the courts have shown no ability to manage them. Of course, the management part goes back to the parenting.

  4. When my disabled son was in middle school, his autism and mental illness diagnosis meant nothing to the staff and he was placed in a FOCUS, or disiplinary class rather than attending to his needs. When the kids in the class proved a distraction, they actually built a plywood screen around him to isolate him from view. I had Disability Rights come in and read the riot act to them, and they had my son in a room alone with one teacher. one day h became agitated and used a few curse words to her. She called the RO and he charged him with disorderly conduct! I went to the DA with a letter from his doctors and told him that if the charge was not dropped I would embarrass him and raise hell in the media..of course he relented.

    My son has never had any proper treatment at school to develop his abilities and he is basically left to sit around all day. At present he is in high school, in a class with profoundly retarded kids..my son does math well, is a computer whiz and can read amazingly well, but the school says that lack of funds keeps hem from doing what is right. Today many schools will refer kids to the cops for petty happenings..and blaming parents is nonsense. Kids at school are not necessarily acting as they would at home, and their actions cannot be attributed to a lack of discipline at home all the time.

    Unless a school is substantially disrupted, with multiple staff members unable to teach or a school locked down, using cops to do the job of a pribciple is insane. The disabled kids are often the victim of this system and it is a crime beyond measure in itself.

  5. 9-19-14 my disabled child was assaulted by a bus aid. I called the police and reported the assault. The police went to the school three days later and wrote the report in a manner in which my disabled son was in the wrong. We talked to the Police Captain and asked why a report about the Bus Aid assaulting him was not sent to the prosecuting attorney. We were told there was no assault.

    The prosecutors office sided with the school and filed disorderly conduct charges against him. Pre trial was 3-2-15 in which they offered him an informal adjustment. He was to apologize to the bus aid who grabbed his arm for no reason three separate times (it is on video) and do 20 hours community service. We pleaded not guilty and set it for trial. Today we went to see his public defender to go over the case and explain to her about the fact we are in federal court right now because the school had yet another staff member (driver) in 2011 who assaulted this same child, however this was more violent and also had a police report and in this one “The Driver was to be charged with unlawful Imprisonment , assault of a minor child, abuse of a child, kidnapping and unlawful detainment. Here once more the prosecuting attorney office said there was no assault. Using ARS code 13-403 1-6. (this (assault also on video)
    Basically upon entering her office she said if we go to trial we will loose as he is guilty. I asked her are you not the public defender? She replied yes. I said to her then your not going to put on evidence to the contrary to show his innocents. I explained briefly about the retaliation and the previous assault which we are now in Federal Court for a Civil Action. She reply was no he’s guilty under the ARS code. So I replied to her then your not going to be his attorney. I will hire him one.
    Tonight I did just that and doing research I found a similar case where the Supreme Court of my State over ruled the lower court on the same charge they are attempting to place on my child. I am confident that we will prevail. Though it might be costly to me these injustices need to stop.
    School officials and staff members need to be held responsible for there actions and stop ducking under the protection of what seems to be a widely used ARS code so that parents are prevented from going after employees of a school. We as parent have to use alternative methods to discipline our children and I am astonished how School Staff think they can lay hands on our children causing emotional distress, behavioral problems and anxiety and not have any consequences.

    This seems to be the situation in many states not just mine. Parents are in most cases scared and do not have the knowledge or the money -time to deal appropriately with these types of situations so informal adjustments are very common here. People need to know there rights and start using them instead of buckling to the system they created.


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