During the 2009-10 school year, Fairfax County Public Schools recorded 69,430 student violations to its disciplinary code. Of those, parents and School Board members remain concerned about how expulsions — which account for less than 1 percent of cases — are handled.
About 20,000 of those violations resulted in after-school detention, and about 15,000 drew warnings for students. An additional 7,000 students received short-term suspensions — between one and 10 school days — and 7,000 more were issued with Saturday detention. Expulsions were made in 640 cases.
During a work session Monday at the Gatehouse Administrative Center, School Board members weighed proposed changes to the school system's disciplinary policy. Proposed changes, forwarded by Superintendent Jack D. Dale, include reducing the time between a disciplinary infraction and adjudication by the school system.
On average, students currently are issued punishments 20 school days after an incident, Dale said.
\"And that's too long," he added.
Proposed changes to the policy aim to reduce that time to 10 days or fewer. Other changes include increasing student and parent knowledge of discipline policies before infractions; clarifying the disciplinary and hearing processes for students and parents; and shifting the handling of noncriminal incidents — such as students bringing prescription medication to school — from the school system's hearing office to the principal's authority.
The school system also is considering expanding resources available to suspended and expelled students and those with drug or alcohol infractions. Between now and May, school staff will work on language changes to enact these proposed shifts and develop a cost estimate for implementation, Dale said.
Although the changes are meant to accommodate students and parents, some School Board members are concerned about their impact.
\"The shortening of the timeline, I understand. ... But if we shorten it too much, we could have problems the other way,\" said School Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill district), who expressed concerns about giving students due process. \"In some cases, [parents] have requested a delay because the student is facing criminal charges.\"
School Board members adjudicate student disciplinary hearings that are forwarded to them from the school system's hearing office. Each School Board member sits on a three-person panel. Gibson said during these hearings, parents may request delays so lawyers can be present.
Fellow School Board member Martina \"Tina\" Hone (At large) also had concerns about the shortened timeline.
\"If we're going to shorten the timeline ... is that going to have some budget implications?\" she asked staff, who said they were working on cost estimates. Hone also said she would like to see the discipline terminology used by the school system clarified.
Parents, she said, should be able to look at the definition of expulsion and know that, \"If you are expelled, the very worst thing that can happen to you is you are assigned to one of our alternative schools,\" she said, adding each definition should show the bottom line.
Dale agreed saying in FCPS \"expulsion means seven different things.\"
Students can be expelled and transferred to another regular school within the county; expelled and assigned to an alternative high school; or expelled from the entire school system, Dale said.
The school-to-school transfers were another topic of concern voiced by School Board members.
In January, a W.T. Woodson High School student Nick Stuban, 15, committed suicide shortly after being transferred to another school within the system.
A similar fate met 17-year-old Josh Anderson in 2009. Anderson, who was transferred to South Lakes High School after being caught with marijuana at Langley, committed suicide just before he was scheduled to attend a second disciplinary hearing.
\"We need to have a very candid and thoughtful discussion on unwanted [school-to-school] transfers,\" Hone said.
Principals who attended the Monday work session said they make great efforts to treat transferred students as new students within the system.
Robinson Secondary School Principal Dan Meier said he tells transferred students, \"I'm going to treat you like you just moved in from Nebraska. ... It's up to you to make the most of this opportunity.\" Every transferred student is different, he said.
Chantilly High School Principal James Kacur said, \"They are welcome in a very receptive way. ... We all remind them that nobody in the building knows what happened [causing the transfer] unless they tell them.\"
School Board members also said they were concerned the school system is not doing enough to aid parents and guardians through the disciplinary process once a student is caught or thought to be in the wrong.
Hone said the school system should provide someone who can sit down with parents and explain the process and what potentially could happen to their child.
By the Numbers
Fairfax County Public Schools officials handled 69,430 cases of violations of its disciplinary code in the 2009-10 school year. The punishment administered in some of those cases is as follows:
About 15,000 resulted in warnings
About 20,000 resulted in after-school detentions
7,000 received Saturday detention
7,000 received a short-term suspension
640 were expelled
Source: Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale