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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, re, 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, 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.

River Song June 10, 2011 at 02:00 PM
So, schools still aren't obliged to "notify parents that their child was suspected of breaking school rules prior to questioning the student about the incident." That's plain wrong! I think that should be the top priority requirement.
Barry Meuse June 10, 2011 at 02:15 PM
inadequate response by school bd members - why does it take advocacy groups to make something happen with this school board - 'beginning of a process' indeed - there's no good reason to wait to include parent notyification in the disciplinary process except the Board is moribound -
Laura B. June 10, 2011 at 03:30 PM
I think one must distinguish between an incident that could result in expulsion and other disciplinary issues. Frankly, I don't feel the need to be consulted before my kid gets detention for being tardy.
River Song June 10, 2011 at 03:43 PM
L Bligh, I understand we're talking about serious disciplinary issues, and anyway, if my kid would face any kind of "detention", I'd like to know about that, so I can discuse and resolve the problem of being "tardy" or "angry". The father of a boy in our elementary school was summoned into principal's office, just because his boy and a friend were imagining being a characters from "Star Wars" during the break. The had nothing in their hands, still their behavior was considered dangerous. So, I'd really like to know at what point kids behavior is considered unacceptable by the school board.
Barry Meuse June 10, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Parents should not be denied the opportunity to know - in real time - when their child has committed an infraction; parents can decide what - if any - response is appropriate and - even - asked to be placed on a 'do not call' list if they choose. However, the school has a responsibility to notify parents. To intentionally NOT notify parents - to SHUT them out - when administrators have an issue with their child - as a matter of policy - seems to me to be insensitive to parents and irresponsible to the child.

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