|Steve Stuban speaks to the school board.|
The meeting went on until 1:30 a.m., as school board members considered a series of complicated amendments on various issues associated with parent notification. At times the conversation got into such details as the difference between “should,” “shall,” and “may.”
The school board formed the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Rights and Responsibilities two years ago to review the handbook on discipline, mainly due to concerns about parent notification. The chair of the committee, Steve Stuban, had made it his mission to strengthen parents’ rights in student discipline after his son, Nick, committed suicide in January 2011 after being expelled from Woodson High School.
After the ad hoc committee completed its report, the FCPS staff submitted a report that watered down many of the committee’s recommendations.
At a public comment period last night before the vote, Stuban and several other parents and education leaders—showing their solidarity by wearing green—urged school board members to strengthen parents’ involvement when their children are subject to disciplinary procedures.
“We collaborated on this in good faith,” said Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax Teachers Association, urging the board to represent parents’ interests. Charisse Glassman said her son had been bullied and called a racist slur at school and was disciplined for trying to defend himself. She was angry that by the time school officials called her, he had already been forced to write an apology. Another parent urged the board to give children the same rights as a suspect accused of a crime.
The only one who spoke in favor of retaining the current policy was Karen Kenna, president of the Fairfax Association of Elementary School Principals, who said she also represented the views of middle and high school principals.
Kenna, the principal of Cardinal Forest Elementary School, urged the board to reject all the amendments on strengthening parent notification because requiring parents to be notified would damage relationships among students, teachers, and staff and threaten safety. “It would tell students not to trust adults,” she said, noting that if students know their parents will be called, they won’t tell administrators if they suspect a classmate is doing something wrong or if they see bullying going on, she said.
Former school board member Tina Hone, the founder and chair of the Coalition of the Silence, told the board, “you cannot simply defer to principals anymore,” calling them “the most influential cogs in the FCPS machine.” According to Hone, principals’ concern that they would lose authority in their building is a “scare tactic.”
School board member Sandy Evans (Mason District) proposed an amendment to reinstate the committee’s language on parent notification, which would call for principals to make a reasonable attempt to contact parents when there’s a violation that could result in suspension before ordering students to write a statement. Exceptions would be allowed for emergencies.
“Parents need to know and need to know right away if their children are accused of something so serious they might be suspended,” she said. According to Evans, the ad hoc committee crafted a balanced approach between ensuring safety and informing parents.
That amendment failed, with only Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) and Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) joining Evans in voting for it.
Another amendment by Evans, to require parent notification when a student is subject to long-term suspension, expulsion, or police action, also failed. The board then passed an amendment by Evans calling for administrators to “make a reasonable attempt to contact parents” before requiring students to write a statement when there’s a possibility of a suspension of 10 days or more. There would be an exception if there’s a possibility of danger to the student or others or the destruction of evidence. An amendment by Evans calling for administrators to make a reasonable effort to notify parents before reporting misconduct to a school resource officer also passed.
The board also passed several amendments to establish some limited protections for students with disabilities who are subjected to disciplinary actions.
The new discipline policy adopted by the board does make some positive changes: It reduces the number of offenses with mandated consequences, calls for administrators to emphasize a positive behavior approach, provides an option to recommend students be reassigned to an alternative program rather than suspension, provides a less punitive approach for first-time marijuana offenses, and calls for students to be informed that the written statement is voluntary.