A student’s background, prior misconducts and cultural factors soon could be taken into consideration in discipline by the school system. A parent-led panel tasked with revising the school system’s disciplinary policies is calling for this change, which will be discussed in a work session by the School Board in April.
On Wednesday, School Board members heard from the 40-person ad hoc committee, which was appointed last October by the board and tasked with reviewing and offering changes to Student Rights and Responsibilities, a governing guide to student standards of conduct and disciplinary punishments. The panel also included educators and local education advocates.
The 52 recommendations covered everything from readability of the Student Rights and Responsibilities document to prevention, intervention and range of responsibility, policies regarding students with disabilities, parent notification and the discipline process.
“Anything that had to do with student discipline with FCPS was up for consideration, review by this committee,” said the committee’s Chairman Steve Stuban, who was appointed to the ad hoc committee by School Board member Patty Reed (Providence District).
Reading recommendations, Stuban said, “The [Student Rights and Responsibilities] should state: In determining appropriate disciplinary actions, the principal is expected to, consistent with School Board regulations, consider relevant factors such as the student’s age, previous disciplinary infractions … cultural or linguistic factors that may have played a role in the misconduct, information about the student provided by parents, teachers, counselors, and/or other school staff, the circumstances surrounding the misconduct, and other mitigating or aggravating factors.”
Additionally, the recommendations included a tiered range of disciplinary responses to behavioral incidents, which was created with the goal of eliminating a one-size-fits-all discipline policy.
Parents belonging to the advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform applauded the reforms, saying in a statement, “FZTR leadership is encouraged by the committee’s strong support for a ‘tiered’ approach to discipline and for greater prevention/intervention efforts … that have proven records of success, resulting in fewer discipline incidents as well as better student outcomes.”
Stuban said the recommendations to take student background into account and tier punishments was nearly unanimously approved by the 40 members of the committee looking at the discipline document. Both recommendations received a 97 percent approval by the committee.
Stuban ran for Fairfax County School Board in 2011 on a platform of reforms to student discipline processes in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Stuban’s son Nick, 15, who was described as a “model student” by a teacher quoted in The Washington Post, would have graduated as part of the Class of 2013. Nick took his life Jan. 20, 2011, after being suspended and recommended for expulsion from W.T. Woodson High School, where he was a football player. His death was the second linked to school disciplinary policies. South Lakes High School student Josh Anderson, 17, also a football player, committed suicide in March 2009 before his second disciplinary hearing.
The School Board and Superintendent Jack D. Dale have been issuing reforms to Student Rights and Responsibilities for about two years.
Previously, Dale implemented reductions in the time between a disciplinary infraction and adjudication by the school system. These spring 2011 reforms also included efforts for more outreach to students and parents to increase knowledge of policies, clarifications to the disciplinary and hearing processes, and shifting the handling of noncriminal incidents — such as students bringing prescription medications to school — from the school system’s hearing office to the principal’s authority.
“This has been a contentious, concerning issue for some time, and I don’t mean just for the last months, but for years. And I believe, as a board, we’ve wrestled with this and wrestled with this. … I think you all have exceeded our expectations,” said School Board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon District) of the recommendations.
For a complete list of recommendations and more on the student disciplinary policies in place, visit www.fcps.edu/dss/ips/srr/committee/index.shtml.