Several Northern Virginia school districts and parent groups are concerned about a state education department directive that they say will require schools to report even minor disciplinary incidents to the state, a change in policy they fear will not only prove burdensome but also distort the amount of violence in schools.
A multi-page memo sent to superintendents Sept. 17 lists more than two dozen categories of reportable offenses and asks schools to report "any violation of local school board code of conduct policy . . . regardless of whether the student was suspended or expelled for the incident."
State officials said yesterday that the new guidelines are meant to consolidate data collection already taking place. They said they also were responding to concerns of parents who believed their schools were not complying with reporting guidelines.
"We had parents coming to the board complaining that they knew of fights that were taking place that weren't being reported because no one was injured," said Cynthia A. Cave, state Department of Education spokeswoman. "The intent of this memo is to understand school safety better."
Fairfax County School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech, who wrote to the state superintendent, Paul D. Stapleton, asking for reconsideration, said the rules mean schools must report "each time a student is counseled or admonished by a teacher for being tardy or disrupting class, or kept after school for cutting class."
Fairfax School Board member Kristen J. Amundson (Mount Vernon), who also serves as president of the Virginia School Boards Association and is a Democratic candidate for state delegate, said: "The number of hours teachers are going to have to spend on paperwork is going to increase exponentially, all for the purpose of someone being able to come back and say 'Aha, there's been a dramatic increase in school violence.'
"And I'm sure there won't be an asterisk that says those numbers include incidents of pushing at the water fountain and kids who are late to class."
"Frankly, I can only assume there has been a huge mistake," said Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III. "As a superintendent, I don't try to run all 45 of our schools on a daily basis. . . . I can't believe that's what the state wants to do here."
Alexandria school administrators, who discussed the guidelines Friday, said it is unclear how a tally of minor violations would improve student behavior or make schools safer. "The outrage was universal," said Margee Walsh, principal at Minnie Howard School.
Some critics said the new guidelines violate students' rights because they require the data to be reported along with student identification numbers.
"I'm outraged and I think other parents will be outraged to learn that the state is going to be tracking their children for every minor offense," said Rosemary Lynch, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs.
Virginia school systems already are required to report to the state a variety of data related to discipline, crime and violence. The data are used for various state and federal reports and for school report cards that show parents how well their children's schools are performing. Most school districts have been reporting only incidents that involve suspension or expulsion.
Cave said the state is drafting a memo addressing local concerns and may need to reexamine the issue of student privacy. "This is the first time we've tried to do something like this, and I'm sure there are some things that can be improved," she said.
Staff writers Liz Seymour and Christina A. Samuels contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Fairfax School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech has asked the state to reconsider its order.