A simple fight at school.

At one time it would have been handled by the school, but now it is being referred to adult court.

And by the time the students appear in court they are "cool" with each other, but could still find themselves with a criminal record that will follow them for the rest of their lives, District Court Judge Ericka James said.

James, whose district includes Wayne, Greene and Lenoir counties, appeared before Wayne County commissioners recently to ask for their support of the Wayne County Partnership Agreement Community Teams with Schools.

It is the district's version of the School Justice Partnership Agreement required by the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act.

The agreement recognizes that those in the community share responsibility for school safety and have to work together to achieve a safe learning environment for everybody, she said

"This document expresses the agreement of the parties in responding to non-emergency school disruptions," she said. "First, it is an agreement, a partnership agreement, and we certainly hope that our county commissioners will be partners to this agreement."

The agreement addresses non-emergency school disruptions.

"We are not talking about the shooter on campus," James said. "We are talking about adolescent misconduct that too often gets referred into the court system.

"We want those issues to be handled at the school where, quite frankly, is where traditionally they have been handled in the first place."

James reassured commissioners that the agreement does not prevent or inhibit disciplinary action by teachers, principals or superintendent.

A Raise the Age workshop being presented by the N.C. Department of Public Safety will be held April 12.

It will focus on logistical changes that counties will be required to make to implement Raise the Age -- the additional resources and space that will be needed.

In a nutshell, this agreement requires that minor student misconduct be handled at the school rather than referring it to court, James said.

Also, no charges will be pursued by the school resource officer or school unless the student has committed at least two prior acts.

One change the agreement does make is that school resource officers can now make direct referrals to the teen court program.

Previously, a charge had to be made and the case sent to adult court, she said. The judge would decide whether or not to refer the juvenile to teen court.

The juvenile would complete teen court then return to adult court for a dismissal if they successfully completed that program, James said.

Another program being looked at is peer mediation to help juveniles resolve their conflicts before it gets to the point of a fight, she said.

In September 2015, Mark Martin, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, convened the N.C. Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice.

In that commission, Martin requested a comprehensive independent review of the state judicial system and recommendations for improving the system.

One committee looked specifically at the criminal justice system, including juvenile justice, James said.

"That committee recommended that North Carolina raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year-olds," she said. "So raise the age to 18."

That has happened, she said.

The juvenile age refers to the cutoff age for kids who are treated in the adult court system versus the juvenile court system, James said.

"Right now, 16- and 17-year-olds are treated in the adult court system," she said. "The Raise the Age legislation takes care of that. Those kids are going to be placed back in the juvenile court system."

The law is being phased in so that 16- and 17-year-olds will not be treated in the juvenile court system until Dec. 1, 2019.

During the meantime, the Wayne County Partnership Agreement Community Teams with Schools will help deal with some of the issues, James said.

The juvenile court system was created in 1919, and has not been changed since then, she said.

The opinion across the country is that it is time to change that, and North Carolina was one of the last states to act to do so, she said.

The commission found a number of things in respect to raising the age, James said.

"No. 1, they found that the majority of 16- and 17-year-olds commit misdemeanor offenses and non-violent felony offenses," she said. "Most of those are misdemeanors."

The commission also found that raising the age would make the state safer, she said. Statistics show that when children are rehabilitated that recidivism rates drastically decrease -- much more than in the adult court system, James said.

The commission also found that raising the age has been successfully implemented in other states, she said.

It also found that raising the age would remove a competitive disadvantage, she said.

For example, if a 16- or 17-year-old steals a T-shirt in North Carolina, they will be prosecuted and have a permanent criminal record.

But if the same person was to do the same act in South Carolina, it would be part of a confidential juvenile record that is protected from disclosure, she said.

The commission also recommended full funding for Raise the Age, she said. It is not a new idea, but has failed for several reasons in the past including a lack of funding, James said.

To help ease the cost, the commission came up with the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act to reduce the number of school-based referrals into the court system, she said.

That is where the Wayne County Partnership Agreement Community Teams with Schools come in, James said.

School-based complaints account for almost one half of referrals to the juvenile court system, she said.

Generations ago, most of those issues would have been handled at school, but today they are being sent to court, she said.

The North Carolina model is based on a system pioneered by a Georgia judge that basically says no kid can have a criminal complaint filed against him until he has committed at least three delinquent acts in the same school year, James said.

The Georgia model resulted in an 83 percent reduction in school referrals to the juvenile justice system.

"And, importantly, a 24 percent increase in graduation rates," James said.