Fairfax schools discipline changes follow steady decline in such cases

New discipline policies approved last week by the Fairfax County school board follow a steady decline in the number of such cases considered by the school district in recent years.

The substantial policy changes, the latest effort by the school system to address the evolving discipline process, are expected to reduce the number of suspensions and possible expulsions students face every year for the most serious offenses.

They include softened punishments for marijuana possession and a broader array of consequences for certain infractions, a reduction in the number of offenses that carry mandated punishments, and a provision that gives principals more flexibility when considering consequences for certain infractions.

According to data from the school system, the number of discipline cases in Fairfax County has been in decline since the 2007-2008 school year.

In the 2007-2008 school year, the administration’s hearing office considered 948 cases for serious offenses. Last school year, there were 673 cases, a 29 percent drop from 2008.

Of the 673 cases, a total of 511 were hearings for possible expulsion. More than 250 cases involved drugs or alcohol, and 189 among those for possession of marijuana.

In all, the school system observed 9,001 discipline cases that ended in a suspension of any duration in the 2007-2008 school year. Last year, there 6,042 similar cases, a drop of 33 percent. During that five year period, less than 10 students were expelled each year, according to schools data.

In the early Friday vote, nine board members supported the changes. Two members, Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) and Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield), voted against them, saying they did not go far enough to alter the discpline process.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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