A temperance movement springs up to combat Fairfax County schools' zero-tolerance policy

Nick Stuban was a football player at W.T. Woodson High School whose story brought to light a discipline system that many Fairfax families call too lengthy, too rigid and too hostile.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 8:59 PM

If you're wondering whether zero-tolerance disciplinary policies are good for our schools and good for our kids, take a few minutes to listen to some of the parental buzz on a Fairfax County online forum:

"Request a copy of your son's record asap," urges one poster on Fairfax Underground. "You have the right. Take that to an attorney."

"All appeals are denied," warns another. "Don't waste your time."

"Good luck - you are in for one of the worse experiences of you life - dealing with FFX County School Board."

"How horrible a system we have that we as parents need to train our kids not to speak to teachers, cops, or administrations. I've told my kids they have one thing to say - I want to speak to my parents, and to not write or sign anything."

The way the much-vaunted Fairfax County school system treats kids who make mistakes has become Topic A in the wake of the Jan. 20 suicide of Nick Stuban, 15, whose story was recounted in heartbreaking detail Sunday by Post reporter Donna St. George.

By most accounts, Nick was a really good kid.

He was a die-hard on the W.T. Woodson High School football team, did well in his classes, was active in church and was even a Boy Scout, literally.

Then last fall, he made a single stupid mistake, the kind lots of teenagers make. In Nick's case, someone told a school administrator that he had purchased one capsule of a synthetic compound that mimics the effects of pot - JWH-018. It's not even an illegal substance.

Nick admitted it, apologized and was sincere and remorseful when he and his parents attended his disciplinary hearing in November. It was the only offense of that kind he'd ever had.

Nick was the only child of military veterans Steve and Sandy Stuban, and he was struggling long before he walked into that hearing room.

His life at home was defined by illness, an excruciating childhood spent watching Lou Gehrig's disease take his mother, muscle by muscle. He knew how to respond to her ventilator alarms and how to perform tracheal suctioning on her. She came to his hearing in a wheelchair with her nurse.

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