The Fairfax County School Board on Thursday unanimously approved the creation of a 40-member committee charged with reviewing its student rights and responsibilities handbook, moving forward a months-long reform of its disciplinary process.
Members had discussed the makeup of the committee since late last month, falling on opposite sides of debates on whether a list compiled by staff was a good starting point, how many community members should be appointed to the group, who should lead the committee and what kind of message its membership would send to the greater Fairfax County community about both the board and the issue, which has polarized residents in the past few years.
While the board spent much of its Thursday meeting discussing what member Ted Velkoff (At-large) called "nuances," by way of amendments, he said he believed board members are "all united in our view that we will have good representation, whatever means we use to get there, we have confidence in the work of the committee," he said.
"When we approve the SR+R in the spring, there's going to be considerable public vetting of what comes before us, [and that's a good thing]," he said.
The committee began as a group of 29, divided nearly evenly among school board appointees and students, and system employees ranging from teachers to principals and a hearings officer.
An amendment by Kathy Smith (Sully) expanded the committee by 12, giving each school board member two appointees from their districts instead of one.
"We need to work together and talk to each other and get diverse representation on the committee. My preference of the best way to do that is to have each of us appoint two people to the committee," Smith said.
Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) also moved forward a motion to reassign the system's deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent for special services — both of whom were originally slated to be committee members and co-chairs — to advisers and facilitators of the committee instead.
The same motion also requires the committee to elect its own chairperson once it is assembled.
"I think it sends a very important message because there's a lot of people out there that think this is window dressing ... that it's a done deal. We've all heard it," Patty Reed (Providence) said. "I think this sends the right message that this really will be a committee that runs itself.”
Board Chair Ilryong Moon (At-large) asked each board member to send him two names within a week. The committee will begin reviewing the system's discipline policies this fall and will present its findings to the board in March 2013.
The board did not pass a motion by Sandy Evans (Mason) to specifically add a representative from the Coalition of the Silence, Fairfax County Council of PTAs, Fairfax County Partnership for Youth, Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform, and the NAACP — organizations Evans said had expertise and extensive research on the issue.
Adding representatives from those groups was a position supported by many of those listed, as well as the county's two major teachers unions.
"These are organizations that have been following these issues for years. We need to bring them to the table. I think it's only fair," Reed said. "If we don't do it, I think it sends the wrong message ... In my view these groups would provide those kind of rich perspectives that are absolutely critical to developing public policy."
The amendment failed, with Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee), Ryan McElveen (At-large), Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill), Moon, Janie Strauss (Dranesville), Velkoff and Smith voting against it.
"It is my belief this committee is larger than individual groups. This is about the community as a whole. That said, I do hope these voices find their way onto the committee, if not through this process," McElveen said.
Another amendment by Evans was successful in adding an additional teacher to the committee makeup, and will require the three teacher representatives be appointed by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, the Fairfax Education Association and the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators.
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Final committee makeup:
- 24 School Board member appointees (one representative by each School Board member from his or her district; one representative, regardless of district, by each at-large School Board member)
- 1 representative from the Fairfax City School Board
- 1 Elementary School Principal
- 1 Middle School Principal
- 1 High School Principal
- 1 Middle School Teacher
- 1 High School Teacher
- 1 Teacher (TBD by teachers' unions)
- 1 School Psychologist
- 1 School Social Worker
- 1 Elementary Counselor
- 1 Middle School Counselor
- 1 High School Counselor
- 1 Hearings Officer
- 1 County Government Representative
- 2 High School students (from the Student Advisory Council)
The Deputy Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent for Special Services will act as advisors. Moon said he will be contacting different employee associations (i.e. High School Principals Association) to ask for their nominations to fill the staff positions.