Letter To The Editor: Discipline Journey has Eroded Community's Trust in FCPS
Stubans speak out at May 26 school board meeting
My name is Steve Stuban. I thank you for the opportunity to be heard at this evening’s public session addressing discipline issues within FCPS. It is important that the School Board and Superintendent be informed of the public’s many concerns with the current disciplinary process. While some will falsely allege that these concerns are being raised by only a small group, I can tell you that having attended a number of Town Halls, PTSA meetings, media programs and the Superintendent’s recent discussions on school discipline – that the vast majority of individuals in attendance are alarmed at the manner in which FCPS continues to implement its disciplinary process and strongly endorse the reforms proposed by my wife and I, and the Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform group, and others. A typical example of this broad consensus was when the Fairfax County Council of PTAs held a vote endorsing a resolution on parental notification – it would require that parents be notified before their child is questioned about an infraction that could result in their suspension from school. The vote for the resolution was unanimous except for a single vote against it. That vote was cast by the Superintendent’s representative.
It seems that the issue is not so much insuring that the Superintendent and School Board are made aware of the serious defects with the existing process – but rather convincing a majority of the members that serious defects require serious reforms. The 10 reforms proposed by the Superintendent are in concept laudable but they do not adequately address the specific concerns they target and in several cases the underlying defects are not addressed at all. Reviewing the SRR redline that has been prepared by the Superintendent’s staff confirms this minimalist approach.
Allowed just 3 minutes, let me draw your attention to one area that the Superintendent has not addressed at all - involuntary transfer of students to other base schools.
During the past several months we have learned from the School Board Working Sessions that such involuntary transfers are not required by any State law (in fact some question whether FCPS even has the authority to make such transfers since the Virginia Code governing Schools does not make a specific allowance for such an action). We have also learned that FCPS has resorted to using involuntary transfers as the default remedy for any disciplinary case handled by the Superintendent’s Hearing Office. Involuntary transfers to another base school regardless of the relative severity of the student’s infraction, regardless of the student’s past academic and disciplinary record, regardless of the student’s unique circumstances.
This habit is troublesome as the Superintendent has stated they have no data to demonstrate its effectiveness – nothing about drop outs, recidivism, academic progress, graduation rates or mental health impacts. But in fact, the Superintendent has the testimony from students, families and mental health professionals clearly indicating this practice places students at increased risk often leading to character stigmatization, alienation, rejection, identity issues, depression, suicide ideation and suicide. The Zero Tolerance Reform group has published a fact sheet with research that supports this. It would be interesting to learn what research supported FCPS’ decision to implement involuntary transfers in the first place,
Despite being made aware of these risks and issues, FCPS has not only failed to address the issue of involuntary transfers but continues to implement a defective process proven to have adverse impacts on students.
Learning of FCPS’ disciplinary process over the past several months has eroded the public’s trust and confidence in the FCPS leadership. A cursory update of the SR&R will not restore that trust – that can only be accomplished with legitimate reforms that transform FCPS’ system from being purely punitive to one that also attempts to rehabilitate.