Landry and her husband spent much of the past year going head-to-head with the county school system regarding their son’s discipline cases, which they say have been overblown and are affecting their family. “All these proceedings have put a financial and emotional strain on us,” she said.
In the 2011-12 school year in Fairfax County, students with disabilities made up 14 percent of the school population but represented 40 percent of discipline cases involving long-term suspensions. The county School Board voted last month to adopt a number of revisions to the district’s discipline policies — known as Student Rights and Responsibilities — including changes aimed at addressing the disproportionate number of cases involving students with disabilities.
Kim Dockery, assistant superintendent for special services, said a new, tiered approach to discipline offers a range of consequences for certain infractions, a change that she said will help address the disparity. She said that with the new policies, “there are fewer behaviors where suspension and expulsion are mandatory.”
But Sheree Brown-Kaplan, founder of the Fairfax Alliance for Appropriate Public Education, an advocacy group for special education students, said the School Board did not approve any significant protections for students with disabilities.
“We realize our kids are a handful — we are the ones raising them,” Brown-Kaplan said. “But we just want our kids to be respected.”
As one of Fairfax’s most experienced advocates for children with disabilities, Brown-Kaplan advised Landry as she navigated the county’s process for resolving her son’s cases. A few days after the School Board’s vote on the discipline policies, Landry learned that her son had been accepted to attend a private school at public expense, as Fairfax administrators acknowledged that the public schools can’t meet his needs.
“I’d love for my kid to be in his base school, making connections with his peers in the neighborhood,” said Landry, a former special education teacher. “My child shouldn’t have to fail to get what he needs.”
Brown-Kaplan said several failed amendments by board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) to the discipline policies might have helped in cases similar to Landry’s.
One amendment that was voted down would have kept school administrators from requesting that students with intellectual or developmental disabilities provide a written statement after an alleged incident.
After an incident on April 5, Landry’s son was asked to write down what happened. The second-grader at Saratoga Elementary School had been accused of not complying with directions multiple times during a physical education class. Teachers and administrators complained that he began to run around the gym, yelling and throwing volleyballs. When teachers and administrators tried to restrain him, he resisted and flailed his arms, Landry said.