A collection of screenshots taken from Evergreen Middle School fight videos posted to social media.

A collection of screenshots taken from Evergreen Middle School fight videos posted to social media.

Low bill would make fighting at school a felony for kids, parents

State Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens, said the proposal’s main purpose is to protect sports referees from unruly spectators.

OLYMPIA — A bill introduced this week in the state House of Representatives could ramp up the punishment for violence in schools.

Rather than a gross misdemeanor, students or adults who physically fight at schools could be charged with a class C felony under a bill supported by state Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens.

Last year, a public records request found widespread fights occurring in Everett Public Schools. In a span of nine months in the 2022-2023 school year, Evergreen Middle School in Everett reported 168 fights.

A dozen resulted in serious injuries.

Evergreen proved to be the most violent in the district, with the four other middle schools recording lower numbers.

Rep. April Berg, a Democrat from Mill Creek and a former Everett school board director, said she has concerns about policies that create a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

However, she noted she hadn’t read the specifics of Low’s bill, as of Wednesday.

“I’m not in favor of anything that would increase the potential of having a direct pipeline of our students into the criminal justice arena,” Berg said.

An Everett Public Schools spokesperson said the district is tracking the bill, but had no comment on it.

Low said his main priority is to toughen the punishment for parents or students who intimidate or hurt sports officials. He said it’s a way to hold spectators accountable and protect referees, who are often volunteers.

When his legislation on the topic didn’t get a hearing last year, he collaborated with Rep. Suzanne Schmidt, R-Spokane, to broaden the proposal to cover more than just refs.

With the expansion, the bill could increase the punishment for students engaging in fights on school grounds.

The legislation states that violent behavior tends to escalate if tolerated, so stronger penalties should be prescribed to these actions.

“Obviously if you spit on somebody that’s not going to be a class C felony,” Low said. “But what we’re really trying to get away from is the violence where you’re attacking somebody, you’re knocking them out.”

The measure, House Bill 2079, also calls for the emergency removal of a student if the incident occurred on school grounds or a year-long suspension from the school if the person is not a student.

Low is aware of fighting in Snohomish County schools, but emphasized his main priority is still protecting referees.

Many sports officials have left the profession because of the way fans treat them, leading to a lack of refs and cancelled games, he said.

The bill was referred to the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee in the house, but had not received a public hearing date, as of Wednesday.

Both Democrats and Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, giving it a semblance of bipartisan support.

But still, Low said: “It doesn’t look like its going to get a hearing to be honest.”

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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