What good can come of this?
Steve Stuban, one of 10 candidates running for an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School Board, can trace his desire to seek the office back to this simple question.
In late January, Stuban and his family were reeling from personal tragedy. His son, Nick Stuban, 15, committed suicide on Jan. 20. Seeking public office was the furthest thing from this father's mind.
Seven months later, Stuban still needs a few deep breaths to brace himself before speaking of the loss.
"After we had buried Nick, my entire family was here — my side of the family, my wife’s side of the family," Stuban said. "When we talked as a family and tried to replay the last several months of Nick’s life and tried to figure out what could have triggered him to come to such a decision, one thing that stuck out in our minds was the discipline hearing that he — well, I should say, we all — went through."
During the first semester of the 2010-2011 school year, Nick Stuban was recommended for expulsion from the school system for reasons that his family declined to discuss at the time. The Washington Post reported, "... he was suspended for buying a single capsule of JWH-018, a synthetic compound with marijuana-like effects. The substance was legal; the teen had checked it out online."
Steve Stuban told Patch, Nick had "taken it home, tasted it, didn't like it and threw it away. What Nick purchased was not illegal or controlled but was considered to be a 'substitute illegal substance' under FCPS discipline rules."
He was forced to make new friends and develop new routines. He was uprooted from his familiar environment. Steve Stuban believes this involuntary transfer may have been one of the reasons that led Nick, who was remembered as a talented football player and a fierce friend, to make the dark, tragic decision to end his life. In short, Stuban thought the discipline policy was flawed.
"What good can come of this?" asked Stuban, a Fairfax resident and a program manager for the Department of Defense. "How can we fix this so that no other family has to potentially endure a process like this or a tragic circumstance that befell us?"
Still, running for public office wasn't the answer that came to mind. Using The Rutherford Institute as a conduit, the Stubans wrote the school system a letter suggesting a number of reforms to the discipline code. They thought the suggested reforms were commonsense. But instead of compassion and open-mindedness, Stuban said they were met by the school system with resistance and defensiveness. (A PDF copy of the letter is attached at the top right-hand corner of this article.)
"It surprised us that we were getting a stiff arm from the superintendent," he said.
So he approached the school board.
"They essentially dismissed suggestions intended to improve FCPS," he said. "It seemed to us when we first sent that letter out, these are smart reforms. These are pretty self-evident. These should be accepted pretty quickly. ... I was somewhat dumbfounded by this entire experience."
And so began a five-month grassroots effort to reform the Student Responsibilities and Rights Handbook. Limited reforms were unanimously approved by the school board in mid-June. The involuntary punitive transfer policy is still a controversial option available to administrators.
"If Nick were alive, I would still probably not know the name of the school board representative for my own district. I might know the name of the superintendent — if Nick was still alive. But he’s not," Stuban said. Running for the school board "wasn’t even on my radar. I was proceeding from the notion that surely school board officials are going to get the suggestions that we’re making. It doesn’t require me to try to get involved politically. I thought this would be cut and dried in a couple of weeks."
The process was far from cut and dried, though. In May, supporters began approaching him about running for an at-large seat on the school board and in mid-June, Stuban made the decision to join the campaign.
"While discipline was the issue that got me engaged, it wasn’t necessarily what got me to run for office," he said. "It was a lack of transparency, a lack of engagement. If takes that much effort to convince (the school board) to do the right thing, how do they act when nobody is looking?"
Over the course of the following nine days, Patch will be running a question-and-answer series with the remaining school board candidates who are seeking an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School Board.
Check back every day to read about why these candidates think discipline policy reform has become a key issue in this race.