Fairfax County school officials backed down yesterday on their five-day suspension of 700 to 750 J.E.B. Stuart High School students who walked out last week in support of more pay for teachers.
Under a compromise reached between school officials and parents, the 160 seniors involved in the walkout will be suspended for three days instead and will have to write an essay on their role in the protest. The seniors, though, were given credit for the three days they already have been suspended.
Undergraduates have been given the choice of being suspended for a day and performing 20 hours of volunteer work at the school or being suspended for three days and writing an essay.
The agreement was announced to about 100 seniors at a closed meeting in the girl's gymnasium at Stuart. The meeting was prompted by U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr.'s decision Thursday to overturn the school's five-day suspension order because "there may have been a number of students who had legitimate reasons for not being in school."
A false fire alarm sounded during the May 25 walkout.
Most of the parents and their counsel seemed satisfied by the compromise reached with the school board and Stuart Principal Richard W. Johnson.
Under the agreement, records of the suspensions would be removed from the student's permanent records. Students also have the right to appeal suspensions without jeopardizing the completion of scheduled exams or graduation.
Johnson refused to admit a reporter to yesterday's meeting at the gym and declined to discuss specific cases of students involved in the walkout.
But several students yesterday said they remained disgruntled and contended that explanations for their absences went unrecognized. Others said they were being punished even though they did not participate in the walkout.
Some seniors also were angered by what they called an "assembly-line hearing" that ignored individual excuses. "I didn't participate in the walkout," said senior Robin Bell. "I skipped third period to attend the rally and then I came back in. I was still suspended for those three days. You don't get that kind of penalty for skipping one class."
One parent, angered about how the meeting was conducted, said, "The students were there to learn about due process and they didn't."
"We weren't treated individually or justly," said Vicky Squires, a suspended senior. "He didn't take any excuses into consideration. When the threat of a walkout became apparent two weeks ago, Johnson was told by the school board that students participating would be students that until after the walkout."
Becky Smith, a senior who participated in the protest, added, "It wasn't worth it. Fi I had known we would be suspended, I wouldn't have done it."