A Fairfax County supervisor and the school superintendent went head to head last week over whether school disciplinary procedures do more harm than good to students.
Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins urged county and school officials to work together to form a Fairfax County Public Schools
Hudgins' memo was released after an apparent suicide of Nicholas Stuban, 15-year-old former W.T. Woodson High School student. Stuban's death, and the 2009 suicide of Joshua Anderson, a South Lakes student, .
"Supervisor Hudgins’ resolution to link two tragic student deaths to their disciplinary processes for the purpose of furthering a falsehood is unconscionable and a blow to those who have already suffered great pain and loss," said .
He went on to counter Hudgins' statement that Fairfax County Public Schools have a "zero tolerance" disciplinary process that needs work.
"I strongly recommend that all members of the Board of Supervisors learn more about FCPS’ practices and policies before making public statements that are misinformed and damaging to our students, families, and community," he said.
, a group of parents and teachers working to promote more transparency, accountability and community involvement in the FCPS discipline process, released their own statement supporting Hudgins' call for the county to review school discipinary procedures.
"Superintendent Jack Dale's response to the BOS outreach is unacceptable," said Caroline Hemenway, a South Lakes parent and director of Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform. "His arrogance toward the BOS is equally stunning. He starts by denying that zero tolerance exists, but hundreds of parents will attest that it does. He claims the draconian policies used by this system are not linked to suicides when they are contributing factors."
The group advocates for more student rights and fairer punishments. Their argument: Zero-tolerance is a harsh, one-size-fits-all reaction to a complex problem.
"What [Dale] avoids addressing is the fact that what FCPS says it does on paper when it comes to discipline is often completely out of sync with what actually happens in schools, in the hearing office, before the school board, and when kids are suspended or when expulsion is held in abeyance," she said. "This system is in dire need of reform."
Anderson, a Great Falls resident who was suspended from Langley High before attending South Lakes, took his own life a day before he was to stand before the FCPS Hearing Office. His parents chronicle their journey through the schools disciplinary process in their blog "Remembering Josh."
His mother, Sue Anderson, expressed outrage at Dale's message. She believes her family's nightmarish experience with the disciplinary process was a major factor in her son's death.
"I believe they are linked," she wrote yesterday. "How can I not think that when he took his life the day before our second time to the Hearing Office? I have re-read our experience with that office, posted within a week after his death and there is absolutely nothing I would change. It is what happened. And our questions remain the same."