The debate over discipline practices in Fairfax County took a slight turn Tuesday night as Superintendent Jack D. Dale told an audience in McLean that the school system is looking at ways to create “a much more expeditious process,” even before broader policy changes are fully considered and enacted.
Speaking at a town hall meeting organized and moderated by WAMU Radio host Kojo Nnamdi, Dale said the system is also considering improving support services to students on suspension.
Dale’s remarks, before a crowd of about 100, followed the playing of an impassioned recorded message made by the mother of Nick Stuban, a 15-year-old football player at W.T. Woodson High School who committed suicide on Jan. 20 after a disciplinary infraction.
Sandy Stuban, who made the message using a voice synthesizer because she has Lou Gehrig’s disease and cannot speak, urged changes, including the recording of disciplinary hearings and the curtailing of forced school transfers for students in trouble.
She asked why interim measures to improve the system could not be taken while the School Board is deliberating broader changes. Her words were widely applauded.
A comprehensive review began March 14 and is expected to continue for weeks.
“I actually think we can take and are taking some of those steps now,” Dale told the audience gathered at the McLean Community Center.
Dale spoke as part of a panel that included School Board members Martina A. Hone (At Large) and Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville) and Fairfax lawyer Bill Reichhardt, whose firm handles discipline cases. The program, called “Kojo in Your Community,” will air as Nnamdi’s broadcast at 1 p.m. Wednesday on 88.5 FM.
Nnamdi started the often emotional discussion by questioning those who grew up in Fairfax County about what discipline was like when they were teenagers.
Parent Eileen Murdock recalled getting caught under the influence of alcohol and not being punished harshly but instead told that she had potential that she should not throw away. She called it a turning point in her life, and she asked for an end to the involuntary transfers that are part of today’s discipline process.
Dale responded by saying that such supportive help “is not unlike what we do now.”
Hone, the school board member, called forced transfers “a habit we have gotten into” and need to change. Reichhardt spoke of the need to decentralize disciplinary proceedings and to inform parents in a timely manner.
Parent Peggy Moore recounted the experience of a family she knew that found their disciplinary hearing to be a “hyena court.”
“You have to revamp that system,” she said. “It’s disgusting.”