Even though the Fairfax County School Board , members warned that the changes didn't signify a moratorium on "involuntary transfers" — a measure that has drawn criticism from local activists.
Instead, the members said, it gives school officials an incentive to come up with more creative forms of punishment.
For example, the board voted to make sure school officials consider measures like community service, loss of privileges or detention before opting to transfer the student to another school.
But if the discipline process is to become more flexible, the school board members warned, punishments for similar infractions may also become less consistent.
The school system should be prepared to face criticisms that officials gave a harsher punishment to one student than another who committed a similar offense.
“More discretion is the antithesis of consistency,” said Tessie Wilson, Braddock District.
At Large member Tina Hone disagreed. If the school system collects data on the discipline process, administrators can prevent the system from becoming unfairly inconsistent.
“Discretion and justice have always lived side by side,” Hone said. “What you have to guard against is abuse of discretion. … Data is going to be the guard on abuse of discretion.”
Under new regulations, students in the discipline system will receive more support during their time away from school. For instance, suspended students will will receive make-up work while they are away.
The school board went a step further and voted that, if feasible, the school system would provide the broader “academic support and other services” necessary for the student to maintain his or her academic standing.
They said this support might include “brick and mortar” solutions, such as access to lectures via audio or to the ability to use another school’s laboratory to complete an assignment while the student was away.
But some school board members worried that given the limited funds allocated for the discipline process, the amendment would present an unrealistic impression of what the school system is able to provide for suspended students.
“I just think that it’s pie in the sky,” said Stuart Gibson, Hunter Mill District. “I just don’t think that it’s realistic.”
The board Thursday also accepted a proposal from School Superintendent Jack Dale to ease the consequences for students who are caught with their own prescription drugs. Now when students are found with their own prescription drugs, principals can preliminarily review the case and then recommend that the students not be expelled.
The board turned down a parental notification proposal. If a student was suspected of an offense that would require a report to law enforcement, the proposal would have required principals to contact the student's parent or guardian before questioning him or her.
The school board also rejected measure that would require that students be notified of their right to remain silent in similar instances of suspected misconduct.
Two school board members, Sandra S. Evans and Ilryong Moon, withdrew efforts that would have forbidden school officials to tell a student to write or sign a statement before talking to their parents.