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Discipline Policy Changes Stop Short of Parental Notification

School board approves special committee to launch study of issue and others, present recommendations next year

The Fairfax County School Board made several adjustments Thursday night to its Students Rights and Responsibilities handbook, adding synthetic marijuana to the list of substances that result in a five-day suspension and mandating principals immediately notify police after alcohol, assault, firearm, bomb threat and certain drug violations.

But a discussion around whether administrators are required to notify parents at the beginning of a process that could result in a student's suspension or recommendation for expulsion — one of the driving issues behind a push for reform a year-and-a-half ago — was put on hold, a decision praised by some who wanted to "take a step back" for a broader discussion about the board's values but criticized by others who say the discussion has gone on long enough.

"At the most basic level this is about trust and partnership between parents and schools. There’s a very simple question before you," said Coalition of The Silence representative Tina Hone, a former school board member. "There are many things left to be studied on discipline; parental notification is not one of them."

The board was scheduled to debate amendments from school board members that could have allowed a principal to permit a student in the appeals process to remain in school, offered more options to first-time possessors of marijuana or related substances, and required principals to notify parents earlier in the disciplinary process — in some proposals, before they are questioned or asked to sign a written statement.

But board members voted 7-5 to follow a motion from Ryan McElveen (At-large) to postpone those changes until it receives recommendations from a special committee, also created Thursday night, tasked with reviewing the manual and best practices in other school districts.

"This doesn’t mean we were for or against anything on the table — it means we want an open and rich dialogue and nothing more,” said Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee), who voted for the motion along with Chairman Janie Strauss (Dranesville), Kathy Smith (Sully), Illryong Moon (At-large), Ted Velkoff (At-Large) and Patty Reed (Providence).

"What we chose to do was not because it was inconvenient for us to make a decision tonight but because it was the responsible and right thing to do — to stop this divisiveness and to say we need to look at these things and we need to have a dialogue and we're going to do it together," Kaufax said.

The recommendations are expected to be completed in March 2013.

"I think it's really unfortunate that we have punted on this tonight; that we have decided it's just too difficult to face," said Sandy Evans (Mason), who offered a parental notification amendment both this year and in 2011, when it, .

Though the board voted 9-3 to pass other — among them, inclusion of peer mediation and restorative justice as methods of resolving disputes and addressing student behavior; expanding the section on bullying to include electronic communication; and allowing cell phone and use of other electronics for class purposes if registered with the school — parental notification was what drew nearly all speakers to the meeting Thursday night.

It pitted the county's middle and high school principal associations, who said a parental notification requirement indicated a lack of trust in school-based administrators to do their jobs, against COTS, Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform and teachers union representatives, who argued parents are partners, not enemies, of the school system and should be treated as such when a disciplinary issue arises.

"There’s a trust and fear gap here, somehow. Parents don't feel trusted, principals don't feel trust and I think it's our job to figure out … how to bring everybody together on this," Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) said.

Bruce Butler, the retiring prinicipal from South Lakes High School speaking on behalf of administrators from 47 county middle and high schools, said there's an element of trust in school communities that allow school-based administrators to hold them accountable for their behavior and "a vote in favor of the proposed changes will significantly compromise that balance that we’ve worked so hard to maintain."

"This is not about supplanting your role as principals, this is not about supplanting the confidence we have in you … it is about saying to parents, 'We trust that you have a place in the partnership in the discipline process of your own children and that everything works better if the parents and the administrators are in this together,'" Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) told Butler.

Board members on both sides of the debate said insinuations about the intentions of school administrators, parents and the school board concerned them, particularly in the way they've set a negative tone for already emotional and divisive conversations.

"Frankly, a lot of us don't feel respected," McElveen said. "We need to put forward an image of respect.”

Steve Stuban, whose became a lightning rod for said he was discouraged by the board’s "reluctance to make hard decisions." While he supported the idea of a committee, he wasn't confident the board would act on its recommendations.

Advocates were similarly discouraged, saying many school board members had campaigned on a commitment to notify parents earlier in the discipline process.

"I saw a bunch of cowards up there tonight," FZTR's Caroline Hemenway said.

Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) said his intention behind proposing the newly-created committee was not to delay action but to ensure a formal ongoing discussion about the document.

"This is a better product than the last one but I was truly hoping we could move it forward," Storck said.

For all of the approved changes to the SR+R, click here.

Schultz, Evans and Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) voted against the final document.

Jim Daniels June 08, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Curmudgeon..Thomas Jefferson can be considered the father of public education...last time I looked, he was a founding father. In fact, public education was very much on the minds of the founding fathers and most, if not all, were strong advocates for it. http://jschell.myweb.uga.edu/history/legis/jeffersonuniversal.htm
Manny June 08, 2012 at 03:13 PM
I would recommend that parents tell their children that if they are brought into the principal's office in regards to a disciplinary matter that they are to request the presence of their parent/guardian and then not to utter another word until the parent is in the room with them. This may seem over the top, but given the tendency of administrators and police to treat normal adolescent boundary testing as a national security incident I think it is appropriate.
Kim June 08, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Manny, I couldn't agree more. We taught our children to ask for a parent if they are ever questioned by anyone in authority. I do not believe those authorities have my child's best interest at heart. Kids can be easily bullied into saying things they shouldn't and should be protected. Parents are the best people to provide that protection.
MBH June 08, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Thanks Jim. As a UVA undergraduate and graduate (in education) that is exactly who I had in mind.
Fairfax Resident June 09, 2012 at 02:12 AM
How will this notification work? It's easy to imagine a situation where a parent can't be reached, or an incident arises that requires notifying a number of parents - if one has to wait until all parents are reached, it could be days before the incident can be investigated. And by then, details are forgotten. Or, we watch the supposed pendulum swing the other way - parents realize the trouble their child may be in and encourage them to lie to the administrators to avoid trouble.
Curmudgeon June 09, 2012 at 02:26 AM
I think there's a difference between Jeffersonian public higher education and local community public education. When did Jefferson found a public high school?
Michael June 09, 2012 at 02:31 AM
The actual language of the amendments would not have required parental consent - only parental notification. Basically, administrators would be free to carry on with an investigation either (a) right away in an emergency - like a knife, gun, etc. - or (b) after calling/emailing parents and informing them of the investigation. I've seen both extremes - bullying admins, and parents who tell their kids to lie so they won't have to face any consequences. But both extremes are exactly that - extremes. They are not the norm. They should not have been used - by BOTH sides - in the way they were used in this debate. In the end a common-sense reform was put on hold because each side insisted that a few rare incidents were somehow proof of the other side's negative intentions towards children and safety. It would have been great to see the reform pass, because it's needed. But because both opponents and supporters attacked with such ferocity, and impugned the integrity of their adversaries so strongly, it really was best to dial down for a while. Supporters will need to remember, we will catch more flies with honey.
Fairfax Resident June 09, 2012 at 02:46 AM
But again, how is "notification" defined - is a voicemail deemed sufficient? If you have to actually connect with 1 parent, or more than 1 parent, how will any discipline actually occur?
CD June 09, 2012 at 02:04 PM
As a parent I have to agree that I should be notified prior to any investigation or questioning of my child. Why is it OK when real criminals get lawyers but kids have to learn to defend for themselves. I am not saying get the kid a lawyer but I am saying get him an advocate (parent). I think notification should read that a parent is notified by every means available (work, home, cell numbers and email) and a sufficient amount of time should be given in the same day for the parent to get back to the administrator. The sufficient amount of time can be debated but you have to give parents some time to be made available.
Fairfax Resident June 09, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Let's say you've notified the parents - gotten one of them on the phone. If that parent says, "don't talk to my child until I'm there, and I'm free tomorrow", then what? Do the schools wait (according to Michael, they don't need to wait)? Can parents pull the kid from school if they don't want them to speak? Because that starts to look like consent from parents is required. I'm sure you see what I'm going - the logistics of the notification process concern me.
Kate Van Dyck June 09, 2012 at 05:06 PM
I agree that this school board is falling into the trap of delay - delay - delay to avoid making the hard policy decisions in a timely manner. Yes, there are other discipline issues to be discussed but parental notification has had very extensive scrutiny over the last two years and tabling it yet again is ludicrous. The terms of some of the amendments allow parents to be part of a fair investigation and partners with the school administration, as they should be. When it is an urgent safety situation, the amendments allow the administrators to act swiftly for the protection of all staff and students, without waiting for contact from the parent. Many current School Board members made parent notification AND parent participation a big part of their election campaign and have yet to make good on those promises!! Are they working for the children, parents and staff OR are they working for Jack Dale? Or possibly making party politics more important than keeping their word to voters?? Research has long proven that parental involvement at any and all levels is a better predictor of student AND school system success than ANY OTHER FACTOR! Let us be partners with our schools, not adversaries!!
Kim June 09, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Thank you, Pat Hynes, for voting for parental notification. You have always put the needs of students first, as a teacher and as a School Board member.
T Ailshire June 10, 2012 at 04:46 PM
If my kid gets sick at school, I (or someone I designate) am notified, and I am expected to get that child ASAP. Why is notification of a disciplinary action any different? The parent, or designee, must get there. Or is no one in the Fairfax County school system smarter than a 5th grader?
diana bork June 10, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Curmudgeon - the U.S. Dept of Education was not founded until the Carter Administration on Oct. 17, 1979, and began operations in May, 1987. But this is not a federal issue, it is a local school board issue (fmr. Deputy Gen. Counsel, U.S. Dept of Ed).
diana bork June 10, 2012 at 05:31 PM
sorry, I typed too fast. The U.S. Dept. of education started operations on May 4, 1980.
Joe Bagadonuts June 11, 2012 at 02:33 AM
All school age kids should have this card in their wallet. http://tinyurl.com/student-rights-card Students Right to Remain Silent with Parental Consent __________________________ has the right to remain silent with parental consent in the event he/she is questioned by a teacher, principal, social worker, psychologist or police officer about any non-academic matter related to information about said student or another student. He/she requests that the school immediately contact a parent or legal guardian and inform them of the situation. The student does not consent to his/her search of person, car, locker, purse, backpack or books and will not sign any documentation without first obtaining permission from a parent or legal guardian. Parent Signature: _______________________________ Date: _________________
FFX County Resident June 11, 2012 at 12:14 PM
no·ti·fi·ca·tion 1. The act or an instance of notifying. 2. Something, such as a letter, by which notice is given 3. a formal announcement Above is the official dictionary defintion. I agree with must posters on this issue, but by legal terms, "Notification" is just that, notifying. It doesn't say "wait/ hold until parent is present." Common sense should prevail here though. Just like when your kid is sick. Normally, repsonse back and pick-up are within one hour. Well, further explain and write it down in a policy, such "if a parent doesn't respond back after time alotted, then student waives his/ her rights." That will grab the attention and quick. Don't get me wrong here, I believe the parent/ leagl guardian should be present before questioning of the student happens if offense warrants police notification, but on the same day! Not this, "I'm only available next Tuesday". Details are forgotton as delay occurs, unless written. If everything is going to be case by case, then freakin' write "investigation, judgement and consequence is case by case and not by zero tolerance." But... the bottom line......! If it's in the student handbook states and some sort of violation occurs, the signature page signed at the begininning of the year understanding the rules and policies should be the notification (or puts you on notice). Zero tolerance means Zero tolerance.
Joe Bagadonuts June 11, 2012 at 01:42 PM
"Zero tolerance means Zero tolerance". I get the distinct impression that most of the posters here have never been caught up in a zero tolerance nightmare at FCPS. I have - and it's a helpless situation in which neither the child nor the parents have any real rights. Picture your child being mistakenly "charged" with some serious violation during school hours. They're taken to a small, isolated room with an administrator and a cop, and the two begin to aggressively grill the child to coerce a confession. "Tell us everything you know or you'll be arrested, charged and put in jail. Expelled from school. You're life will be ruined." Think this doesn't happen - a lot? And due process through hearings and appeals? Be prepared to lawyer-up, and take your family through a drawnout, hellish, stressful process. And be prepared to lose - because the whole game is stacked against you. Zero Tolerance has nothing to do with discipline or correcting objectionable behavior. It's government overreach at its worst. It came into being as a well intentioned response to Columbine and other like disasters. But like many "war on...." government programs it's evolved into a monster that causes much more harm than good. I'm glad to see that the pendulum is swinging (albeit slowly) back to the middle. And this swing is due to parents fighting back. Keep it up - go to the next hearing and demand that the board grow some b*lls and do the right thing!
Manny June 11, 2012 at 01:57 PM
I like this! It's sad that this is necessary but it is a good idea.
Isle D Belle June 11, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I totally agree with Joe Bagadonuts and Manny. FCPS, you cannot question my child without my being present. You also cannot magically waive my child's right to have me present, or to remain silent in the face of interrogation, if I am unable to be there right away. When administrators treat children like criminals, or less than criminals, by stripping away their constitutional rights, there is little reason to trust them. The juvenile delinquency system is designed to recognize that rehabilitation is the goal rather than punishment (at least in theory - but let's not have that argument here), why can't schools realize that kids who get into trouble need help from adults. This should not be a process that focuses on guilt and punishment. Help for kids is best provided through a partnership that involves parents. When kids realize that there is a team focused on helping them succeed, their success is more achievable.
Locally Involved June 11, 2012 at 07:44 PM
It seems to me that I'm hearing alot of parents, understandably, jumping to the defense of their children. I get it. But when your child is knowingly in the wrong - YES, you should let them defend themselves. NO, you should not have your child withhold information until you get there. If it's a serious enough infraction, it seems to me that yes, the necessary parties need to be notified. But as a parent, my child (especially in high school) is old enough to know better and if my child knowingly breaks the rules, then my child better have some fear. A little fear is not a bad thing. It teaches a child for the future. I am so frustrated with my neighbors looking the other way with their children. They need to be taught wrong is wrong and it is NOT okay. You will deal with officials outside of school soon enough. As for school officials. A little reality check would be nice. Fingernail clippers and nail files are NOT weapons. If you bring up my child on this ridiculous rule, I will ruin your day and year. Practical, common sense. My kid as a real weapon (hunting knife, gun, whatever) - fine. Put the fear of God in my child. I'll get to the school after work. My kid has REAL drugs (weed, coke, whatever). Same thing. You pull my kid on aspirin? Again, I will ruin your life. Common sense rules apply if my child is to follow them and we are to have a collaborative relationship.
Joe Bagadonuts June 12, 2012 at 12:04 AM
@Locally involved. You veered wildly off topic. You've dropped in on a discussion about zero tolerance policies in schools. We're not talking about: your parenting. Or your neighbors who you think are deficient parents. Or teaching wrong and right. I hope your kid never get implicated in one of these awful situations. But if they do, you'll quickly lose that naive, cocky attitude. I'd love to be there if you ever tell a cop or a juvenile court judge that you're going to "ruin their life". Good luck with that strategy. And by the way, if your kid is caught with aspirin, they WILL get the full punishment. Read the SRRs - it's all in there. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. No exceptions, no special circumstances.
Locally Involved June 12, 2012 at 12:37 AM
@Joe - Zero tolerance laws, IMHO, lack common sense. THAT was my point. I have no problem whatsoever with my child, should they be errant (and,happily, they have common sense and good judgment), that they are responsible for their actions. I do not agree with Zero Tolerance. I do agree with common sense laws and personal responsibility. I think it's rather cocky to think a child is never wrong, never errant. If they show poor judgment (such as I stated with obviously illegal weapons or drugs), then the consequences apply. However, detaining and questioning my child for something like aspirin is simply ridiculous. I believe in active parenting and collaborative relationships with our school administration. BUT when such intolerance exists - it makes it impossible to be collaborative. Therefore, I believe it is a parent's right to fight the silliness of Zero Tolerance. Schools need to maintain order, but with common sense guidelines. We could carry aspirin in high school 'back in the day'. No problem. When the schools had 'locker raids" on suspected illiegal drugs, parents were not notified of the calls, but were notified if such substances were found in their child's lockers. No problem. Parents had no problems. Their kids bore the consequences. It is a bit of an overreach to ban everyday items as illegal.
Beth June 12, 2012 at 06:08 AM
Yes, Jim Daniels is correct, Thomas Jefferson did have a critical role in supporting public education, including the primary level. Remember the Northwest Ordinance of 1787? The Northwest Ordinance was derived from a proposal by Thomas Jefferson concerning the formation of states from the territory acquired as a result of the Revolutionary War. The Northwest Ordinance, officially known as the Ordinance of 1787, created the Northwest Territory, organized its governing structure, and established the procedures by which territories were admitted as states to the Union. The ordinance also set aside land in each township for schools, thus setting a precedent for federal support to education.
Beth June 12, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Curmudgeon, TJ established public education via the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
Curmudgeon June 12, 2012 at 11:20 AM
From Article 3: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." If you're using the Northwest Ordinance as evidence that Jefferson founded public education, you should also be of the opinion that he founded a church, based on the wording of the document. Setting aside land in a limitless territory (seemingly, at the time, anyway) for one activity or another does not mean anything in practical terms, as it cost nothing to do so.
FFX County Resident June 12, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Alrighty then, I see the issue of zero tolerance has crossed into the drug realm. Drugs and weapons are truly the root of this policy. But for those who are not a "helicopter parent(s)," and spend more time at the gym than you do with your kids, I dare you to tell me the difference between an aspirin tablet and an ecstacy or oxycontin (sp) pill. They come in all makes and colors. Lead in.....Kids are abusing more pharmacuticals than ever and doing any means by necessary to go unnoticed. Placing "x" in bayer bottles and then trying to pass it off as such. How do I know, I have seen it first hand. So what is a school administrator to do if kids aren't honest about a headache? Half the time, the police can't arrest the guys or gals for having "real" drugs, because it so similar to other prescription drugs. And God forbid, they happen to place someone in confinement and get it wrong, based on bad information; can someone say "lawsuit" galor? Agree, common sense plays a part, but so does parenting 101---- teaching, instilling, and displaying values that exemplifies right vs. wrong. If kids, especially highschoolers understand those values and judgements, they should have no problem with understanding "zero tolerance" and defending themselves. They sign the document every year prior to starting school. Read it with them.
Beth June 12, 2012 at 12:12 PM
OK, Curmugeon, I now see there's more need to explain. Thanks for looking up Section III of the NW Ordinance of 1787, but keep digging deeper into history for further understanding. The Ordinance of 1785 established section 16 for public education. In the case of the NW Ordinance, these were indeed public lands owned by the United States that could be sold, so it was an opportunity cost for the US gov't to devote the land to public education rather than be sold for any purpose just to earn money. Instead, they planned and Jefferson’s proposal was much more orderly. He advocated the creation of a rectangular or rectilinear system of land survey. The basic unit of ownership was to be the township — a six-mile square or 36 square miles. (Jefferson had actually favored townships of 10-mile squares, but Congress believed those plots would be too large and difficult to sell.) Each township was to be divided into 36 sections, each a one-mile square or 640 acres. Borrowing from a New England practice, the Ordinance also provided that Section 16 in each township was to be reserved for the benefit of public education. All other sections were to be made available to the public at auction. So there you go.
Curmudgeon June 12, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Jefferson wrote this about public schools: But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by the Governor and Council, the commissioners of the literary fund, or any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience. Try the principle one step further and amend the bill so as to commit to the Governor and Council the management of all our farms, our mills, and merchants' stores. (Letter of Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Cabell, Feb. 2, 1816, reprinted in Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1955), page 98 and The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Memorial Edition 1904), volume 14, pages 420-21.) This doesn't look like a ringing endorsement of our current brand of schooling.
Beth June 12, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Ah, now you change the subject, Curmudgeon! You asked about TJ's support for the establishment of public schools, which I answered. If you want to delve into the current Virginia governor's role in public education, look no further than the firing of UVa's current president by the new board -- half of which the new governor appointed. The state of Virginia is systematically defunding higher education to the students' peril.

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