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Second Chance, Parental Notification Still Hurdles in Fairfax Discipline Reform

Debate heats up as school board weighs community and staff recommendations before coming school year.

Two weeks after a community committee detailed 52 recommendations to overhaul discipline practices systemwide, Fairfax County Public Schools staff has presented its own proposal for policy changes. But the plan leaves out two programs some see as key to a years-long push for reform — sparking a debate Monday on what role both groups would play in how the system moves forward.

Staff leaders backed many of the ideas put forward by including initiatives to make the discipline handbook easier to understand, keep students in school as they appeal a suspension and give principals tiered, age-specific approaches to a range of offenses.

But staff members said they could not fully endorse second chance programs for first-time drug and alcohol offenders or policies requiring schools to notify parents before questioning students who may have violated school policies.

Both issues have driven conversations around discipline since 2011, when Nick Stuban, then a 15-year-old Woodson High School student, committed suicide after idling for weeks in the county's disciplinary hearing process.

Staff said Monday it had yet to find a way to implement policies that are fair and consistent and also resonate with all stakeholders, namely, principals and some parents.

Some school board and committee members, including chair Steve Stuban, Nick's father, said after Monday's meeting the solutions were already on the table; staff had chosen not to take them.

"It wasn't a majority of parents, or a majority of teachers, it was a majority of 'everybody.' Every group was represented," Stuban said of the recommendations from the committee, which included parents, students, teachers, staff and law enforcement officials, among other experts. "It's somewhat troubling [to a number of us] that it seems like a second filter was applied before the school board would consider the recommendations we had made."

Any policy changes for the coming school year must be in place by June, a timeline staff said it used to prioritize its recommendations.

"The document is 187 pages ... There has to be another work session to discuss it," said Kim Dockery, assistant superintendent for special services. "It isn't that we don't want to do [other things]. It's that in a finite amount of time, what do we need to start with? And that's the priority of opening school with this document."

But doing so puts the board in the same place it was two years ago, some members argued.

"For us to say we simply can't do it and that our schools won't be safe  ... that is not the collaboration that we wanted," School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said.

“Not always do we agree and that’s okay,” Superintendent Jack Dale said. “But we're still collaborating"

Parental Notification

The community committee supports a policy that would require principals to make "reasonable efforts" to contact parents once they’ve determined a student could be recommended for suspension or expulsion, except for cases in which evidence might be destroyed or there is imminent danger.

In its analysis Monday, staff said principals should notify parents “at the earliest opportunity,” though it did recommend creating a standard form for collecting student statements which would indicate to students they are not obligated to respond.

Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) wondered how staff would define “reasonable efforts” and “earliest opportunity,” something officials said they were still working to develop.

The proposal didn’t go far enough for some board members, who felt the issue has widespread support but no traction.

"We do have a disconnect and I ask all of you to think very carefully what kind of precedent we're setting,” Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said.

Second Chance

Staff also hesitated to offer first time marijuana or imitation marijuana offenders a five-day intervention program in lieu of an automatic recommendation for suspension.

It instead proposed allowing principals and the hearing office the option of considering an intervention program as part of the 10-day suspension for first time offenses.

The system needs to have a more concrete decision-making protocol to ensure consistency across the system, Dockery said, one that doesn’t treat those with drug violations differently than those who commit other offenses, like fighting or vandalism.

The board charged chair Ilryong Moon to work with staff and Dale over the next week in an effort to incorporate some degree of parental notification and second chance programs in their report.

It’s not clear whether the community committee will be involved in that process, Stuban said.

Board members will revisit the issue in early May and have an opportunity to offer amendments before policy changes are put to a vote in June.

John Farrell April 09, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Arrogant, dismissive intransigence is not anything like "collaboration,"Jack! Clearly, Jack, Kim and Rich neither trust nor respect Fairfax parents and have caved to the bullying of the mutinous FCPS high school principals. These high school principals have no problem finding the student's parents once the principals have brow-beaten the kid into confessing to whatever transgression the principal dreams up so that Mom or Dad can come get their kid and take them home. But call Mom or Dad before the brow-beating starts? Can't do that. Won't do that. Refuse to do that. The FCPS principals will not surrender their power to the real parents. Several School Board members, elected by those parents to represent those parents, immediately cave. And the School Board members who speak up for those parents and kids get viciously attacked . . . by other School Board members and the Superintendent! We are on the far side of the looking glass where the subordinates (high school principals) boss around the bosses (the School Board) and the bosses take it and apologize for bothering their subordinates. Unbelievable.
Julie Simpson April 09, 2013 at 02:52 PM
We have first hand experience of the intimidation and bullying tactics employed by FCPS principals and security officers. Thank goodness our kid was strong enough to deny school officials even as a freshman while other students were too intimidated and lied in order to appease the officials. Subsequently we instructed our kids to not speak to any school officers until at least one parent was present.
KH April 10, 2013 at 03:09 AM
So incredibly disappointed in this process. Parental notification was ready to be voted on last June until a last-minute plea from the principal's group delayed this for almost a whole year. Then, with so many at the table - conceivably every voice represented, still nothing? Did FCPS ever produce the data on the disproportionate numbers of minorities going through this ordeal? It’s that group I worry about most. Most parents who have heard anything about this have already instructed their kids not to say a word or write anything down until they’ve been called. If you haven’t had this conversation with your child, I suggest you to do so.
The Convict April 10, 2013 at 02:31 PM
"The system needs to have a more concrete decision-making protocol to ensure consistency across the system, Dockery said, one that doesn’t treat those with drug violations differently than those who commit other offenses, like fighting or vandalism." =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= I guess these Dolts clump all folks who vlolate the rules into the same "Thug" category. Hey, Dolts, there is a difference between drug use, fighting and vandalism.
doris lyons April 10, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Bullying is a major problem in many schools and even in the lower grades. In the current conversation there is too much focus on one or two infractions and not enough attention to the overall school environment. On the one hand we always hear that the "Parents should be involved." Then, when the parents try to be involved, no- they can't even be notified to be present when their child is facing serious charges. I'm not a parent of students in Fairfax County Schools but it seems to me that the whole discipline system needs some serious revisions.

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