The capsule he got was “filled less than halfway with the JWH,” he wrote. “I was sort of surprised because it did not look like a spice, but I said ok and took it home. I tried smoking it out of a pretzel and eating it with lettuce.” He felt lightheaded and threw away the rest of the capsule, he told school officials.
Nick’s previous Fairfax disciplinary history, according to school records, included two infractions: using a cellphone and copying a friend’s work in class once.
For buying JWH-018, Woodson officials recommended Nick for expulsion, but Steve Stuban felt sure it would make a difference that Nick was a first-time offender. Nick would be punished fairly, he thought, and would learn from the incident.
Soon after, Nick approached Trey Taylor, his football coach, with visible regret. “It wasn’t, ‘Poor me, I can’t dress for the last game,’ ” Taylor recalls. “It was, ‘I feel like l let you down. I feel like I let the team down.’ ”
Nick was “always doing the right thing,” Taylor said. “I would never believe in a million years that he would have been in this position.”
In the past three years, Fairfax’s cases of recommended expulsion have declined, which Dale attributes to a program that encourages positive behavior in schools.
The district’s most recent figures show 683 cases of suspension with recommendation for expulsion, which led to 370 school transfers. Fewer than 60 students returned to their school. Fairfax officials say recommendations of expulsion are required for certain offenses under state law.
School board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville) said transferring students sends a message that teens can’t “just get away with it and come back.” Transferred students also get the opportunity to “start over again,” she said. “Sometimes a change of peer group, a change of environment helps.”
Board member Martina A. Hone (At Large) contends that the transfers ignore the impact on students and families. “This comes out of the same era as corporal punishment,” she said. “It was not to rehabilitate the child. It was to punish.”
In the Washington area, few systems use school transfers as often as Fairfax does. D.C. schools have moved away from involuntary transfers. In Montgomery County, a majority of students go back to their home schools, said Wayne Whigham, who oversees disciplinary processes. “You want to put the kid back in the community where they feel comfortable, where they have friends, where they have the best chance for success because they are familiar with the surroundings.”
There is not extensive research on mandatory transfers, said Dewey Cornell, a University of Virginia education professor who studies school discipline. But research shows that even suspensions, which are temporary, tend to increase academic problems and lead to further behavior problems and higher dropout rates.