Debevoise Files Amicus Brief In Support of Challenge to South Carolina’s “Disorderly Conduct” and “Disturbing Schools” Laws for Students

31 March 2022

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Disability Rights Network, the National Center for Youth Law and 23 additional and civil rights and public interest organizations in support of public school students in South Carolina and the Carolina Youth Action Project (CYAP). The student plaintiffs and CYAP are challenging South Carolina’s “Disorderly Conduct” and the “Disturbing Schools” laws which make it illegal to use “obscene” language and act in an “obnoxious” way. The plaintiffs claim these laws have denied students due process and are also criminalizing them for typical, childlike behavior.

Nationally and in the state of South Carolina, Black students are disproportionately targeted under school disciplinary laws. Additionally, South Carolina has disproportionately charged students with disabilities, relying on police to handle misbehavior rather than implementing students’ Behavior Intervention Plans and other protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that help schools address behavior associated with students’ disabilities. 

The brief argues that these two laws have left a trail of criminal records for students which can impact the rest of their lives, and makes two crucial points:

  • School Pushout and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: School pushout is what happens when school policies and practices, like harsh discipline policies, exclude students from the classroom and force them to leave their schools altogether.
  • Students Most Targeted by School Disciplinary Laws: Black students and other students of color, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, and students at the intersections of these identities are the most targeted under school disciplinary laws.

The brief urges the Fourth Circuit to agree with the district court’s decision which concluded that South Carolina’s school disciplinary laws are unconstitutional, and ordered the state to expunge all student criminal records obtained because of them.      

The Debevoise team was led by litigation partner Courtney Dankworth and associates Adrian Gonzalez and Dominique Jones.