'Disturbing' Law Seeks to Protect Students

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 20, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Judges are not supposed to read the newspapers in making their decisions, but it's hard to ignore the news.

According to reports, there has been an average of one school shooting each week in 2018. The number of student victims is even more sobering.

In the U.S Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges had to look beyond the news when considering a "disturbing schools law." Nobody was close to being shot in Kenny v. Wilson, but apparently lawmakers were not sure about how to keep the troublemakers away.

Disturbing Schools Law

The South Carolina law, S.C. Code Ann. Section 16-17-420(A), makes it a misdemeanor:

"(1) for any person willfully or unnecessarily (a) to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State, (b) or loiter about such school or college premises or (c) to act in an obnoxious manner thereon; or

"(2) for any person to (a) enter upon any such school or college premises or (b) loiter around the premises, except on business, without the permission of the principal or president in charge."

Plaintiffs -- students who were disciplined for violating the law -- challenged it as unconstitutionally vague.

Black and White

One plaintiff -- a black high school student -- was charged with violating the law after a fight. She did not initiate the altercation, and she alone was injured.

Another plaintiff -- a white student with disabilities -- was charged after she cursed another student who had been teasing her. Other students in the proposed class were charged for conduct such as complaining about campus police, being tardy and talking in class.

The Fourth Circuit did not rule on the merits, but concluded the plaintiffs had alleged injuries sufficient for standing and remanded the case to the trial court. The fact-finder will determine whether the law discriminates based on race or disability.

Steven D. Schwinn, a professor at John Marshall Law School, said it's hard to see how the law isn't unconstitutionally vague.

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