Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale announced the array of proposals at a news conference Wednesday as the Fairfax County School Board prepares for a second session Monday on how to improve discipline practices in Virginia’s largest school system.
Dale said some of the changes may happen quickly if the School Board gives the go-ahead, and others could be in place by the start of the next school year.
For 600-plus students affected every year, he said, “this is a big change and an appropriate change.”
With most now spending an average of 20 days outside of class during the disciplinary process, he said, “we don’t think that’s appropriate. We would agree with lots of comments from the community, parents, etc., that we’re losing too much instruction time there and we want to shorten it.”
His proposals come 10 weeks after the January suicide of Nick Stuban, 15, a football player at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax who took his life amid the fallout of a disciplinary infraction. Another teen, Josh Anderson, 17, a South Lakes High School football player, committed suicide in March 2009, a day before he was to face his second disciplinary hearing.
Those cases fit a pattern discernable in more than two dozen others identified by The Washington Post: Students in discipline cases spend long periods out of school, often four to eight weeks. At hearings, families contend students are under fire in what they see as adversarial proceedings that veer from fact to suspicion. Punishment often includes forced school transfers that can cut off social connections and upend academics.
Reaction Wednesday was optimistic but guarded, with many parents hoping the measures would be a turning point toward substantial reform.
Steve Stuban, Nick’s father, said he was encouraged but remained “vigilant as to the details and the breadth of the reform.” He and his wife, Sandy, had asked for a moratorium for most forced transfers, which was not part of the proposal, although Dale said the transfers could be somewhat less frequent.
The Stubans and others had advocated for audio recordings of hearings, a move that was among the recommendations, and for parental notification before students are interviewed by school officials in cases that could lead to lengthy suspensions or expulsions. Dale’s plan stopped short of that, calling for a refining of guidelines for parental notification.
Stuban said Wednesday that he did not know whether any of the changes proposed would have made a difference in his son’s case, but said the topics being addressed would seem to “lessen the needlessly traumatic effect that this type of an experience would have on an adolescent.”