School Board Votes To Make Discipline Process More Flexible, Supportive
Board shelves issue of parent notification
The Fairfax County School Board passed a series of amendments Thursday night that will give school administrators more flexibility and students more support when they enter the school system’s disciplinary process.
Among the most significant measures was the school board’s decision to rely less heavily on “involuntary transfer” as a form of punishment.
Under the unanimously approved amendment, school officials will have to consider alternatives such as community service, loss of privileges or detention before opting to transfer the student to another school.
“This amendment will hopefully end the practice of automatically transferring a student as the first option of discipline,” said at-large school board representative Martina Hone.
For students facing out-of-school suspension, the school board voted, when possible, to provide academic support and other services that would help the student maintain his or her academic standing.
The school board also voted to allow parents to request and subsequently pay for a court reporter to appear at their child’s disciplinary hearing and/or transcribe the proceedings.
Under the new regulations, recommended by Superintendent Jack Dale, the audio of student disciplinary hearings will be recorded.
After a months-long review process, many of the school board’s changes fall short of the demands of local activists, who rallied outside Luther Jackson Middle School before Thursday's meeting to call for more changes. Among those that "didn't go far enough," activists said, was the board's decision not to make any changes to Dale’s recommendations regarding parent notification.
The board turned down an amendment that would have required principals to notify a student’s parent or guardian if the student was suspected of an offense that required a report to law enforcement, prior to questioning the student about the incident.
“Parent involvement is key to everything we do in Fairfax County,” said Mason school board representative Sandra Evans. “We need to show parents that they are partners in the discipline process as well.”
But some school board members argued that the requirement would be overly burdensome for principals and might restrict them from fully investigating an alleged offense.
“I am afraid that the principal will never get to the bottom of what did or did not happen,” said Dranesville school board representative Jane Strauss.
The school board also rejected a measure that would require that students be notified of their right to remain silent in similar instances of suspected misconduct.
Evans and at-large school board member Ilryong Moon withdrew two other amendments aiming to involve parents earlier in the investigation of their child’s alleged misconduct.
Many school board members acknowledged that their proposals did not go as far as some of their critics might like, but emphasized that the vote was an important first step in reforming the school system's disciplinary process.
“Whatever is done or not done tonight I believe is the beginning of a process,” said at-large school board representative James Raney at the start of the meeting.
The school board made a symbolic gesture to the community by passing an amendment that renames Student Responsibilities and Rights to Student Rights and Responsibilities, which they said shows their desire to put the needs of students first.
Editor’s note: The parent notification portion of this story has been updated since it was originally published.