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School Board to Vote on Discipline Committee

Twenty-nine appointees will recommend changes to student handbook

The Fairfax County School Board is scheduled to vote Thursday night to establish a special committee charged with reviewing and recommending changes to the system's Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) manual, continuing a broader reform of its disciplinary process that began nearly two years ago.

The 29-person committee — whose members will range from citizens and judicial representatives to administrators and students — will be charged with slimming the 44-page document, making it easier to understand and ensuring it reflects the "community's values, School Board policies and Virginia laws," according to school board documents posted in advance of the meeting.

It will deliver its recommendations to the board by March 2013, according to the documents.

The creation of the committee was part of among them, 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.

At the time, the board was also 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, which is also tasked with reviewing 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," Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee) said during the vote.

According to board documents posted this week, the committee will include:

  • Twelve school board member appointments (with district board members selecting from among their constituents, and at-large members choosing a community member from anywhere in the county)
  • One representative from the Fairfax City School Board
  • One Elementary School Principal
  • One Middle School Principal
  • One High School Principal
  • One Middle School Teacher
  • One High School Teacher
  • One School Psychologist
  • One School Social Worker
  • One Elementary Counselor
  • One Middle School Counselor
  • One High School Counselor
  • One Hearings Officer
  • One County Government Representative
  • One Deputy Superintendent (Co-Chair)
  • One Assistant Superintendent for Special Services (Co-Chair)
  • Two high school students from the Student Advisory Council

FCPS Spokesman John Torre said Thursday along with the two co-chairs already on that list — Deputy Superintendent Rich Moniuszko and Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Kim Dockery — one of the 12 school board member appointees will also serve as a co-chair of the committee.

That co-chair selection will take place at the group's first meeting, Torre said.

Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform, the advocacy group that has driven disciplinary reform since early 2011, said while thankful board discussions continue, it was disappointed with how the committee was created, saying the 13 staff members slated for spots on the committee outnumber parents, community members and outside experts.

It also took issue with the absence of a specific representative dedicated to FZTR, the Fairfax juvenile probation department, or anyone from either the the Coalition of the Silence, the NAACP, Fairfax Partnership for Youth, the special education community or "others who regularly work with students & families impacted by the FCPS discipline process."

"Does this look like a committee designed for dialogue 'from all sides'? To consider the impact of the practices carried out in the name of the policy? To gather 'our community's values' from people not employed by FCPS?," FZTR Communications Director Michele Menapace wrote in an email ahead of Thursday's vote. "Doesn't it look like a committee designed to rubber stamp the current discipline practices rather than considering alternatives and PROVEN best practices?"

McElveen said staff determined the makeup of the committee, "with the understanding that the board hoped it would be both productive and inclusive."

"The size was limited to keep it manageable, and the membership was opened up by allowing [school board member] appointees instead of delimiting selections to specific groups," McElveen wrote in an email to Patch.

The board will vote on the committee at its 7 p.m. meeting Thursday at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.

FZTR has corrected its statement to reflect 13 staff members, not 14.

John Farrell September 06, 2012 at 12:05 PM
This committee membership roster is a cave-in by the School Board to the bullies among the school principals who mutinied last May. There will be no substantive changes from a committee dominated by FCPS employees. If Moon, Straus, McElveen, Denarek and Velkoff vote for this committee membership, they will betray the fundamental principals of Fairfax Democrats whose endorsement they sought. Real change can only happen if the advocates for change are included and outnumber FCPS staff. This committee is guaranteed to be a whitewash of a dysfunctional system.
C. Ford September 06, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Personally, I would have liked to see more than just a token student on the committee. I'd like at least two, preferably more, and not from the Student Advisory Council, but instead someone from the Student Government of each high school. Those are *elected* representatives of the students, not someone *selected* by a group of adults. I also agree that having someone from the juvenile probation department seems like a no-brainer for this committee. What I want to know is, where are the parent representatives? If the advocacy groups are too politically-charged, then work through the various PTA/PTOs to find parents willing to serve - they don't all have to be high school parents either. I've got two kids in elementary school and I fully expect that whatever discipline process is put in place, that my kids will be subject to it. Step away from the 'professionals' for a minute and put some people on there whose sole purpose is to advocate for the kids.
Louise Epstein September 06, 2012 at 01:35 PM
It's unfortunate that FCPS staff sought to exclude people with different perspectives from this committee. Condensing the SR&R is a worthwhile and long-overdue project, but inevitably will require judgment calls about what to delete and how to phrase different concepts. It would be best if all the people making those judgment calls fully understood the pros and cons of each sub-issue.
John Farrell September 06, 2012 at 01:52 PM
The School Board resolution said that this committee is supposed to recommend substantive changes but John Torres apparently has the power to override the will of the School Board and restricted this community committee to a proofreading exercise! Whitewash indeed.
DogLove September 06, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Student Advisory Council Members are elected by the student body of their respective schools.
Michele Menapace September 06, 2012 at 03:05 PM
The name of the group being formed is "Community Committee on Student Rights and Responsibilities." Note the word COMMUNITY. It's not a school board committee; it's not a staff committee. So why has school board chair Moon recommended that community representatives be outnumbered by staff in both membership and leadership roles? Anyone who listened to the school board discussion when the committee concept was adopted knows that critical reform questions were deferred until this COMMUNITY review could take place. A vote to require parental notification before students are questioned by administrators was put off until the community could weigh in. Now staff is saying streamlining is the primary purpose of the group? Really? (Honestly, I can hear Seth Meyers' and Amy Poehler's incredulous voices on SNL/Weekend Update.) The school board deserves an honest, open, and full discussion of the impacts and practices related to the SR&R so the COMMUNITY committee's recommendations include the full breadth of options for consideration. NOTE: The FZTR position included a typo: there are 13 staff members recommended, not 14.
John Farrell September 06, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I am advised by one School Board member that students who have had a discipline issue are prohibited from serving on the Student Advisory Council. Thus, this committee would have "students representatives" who have no experience with the discipline system. Given that 69,000 FCPS students have had an interaction with the discipline system (according to the last statistics available) how can students who have no experience with that system be described as representative of the student body, Mr Anonymous DogLove?
Laurie Dodd September 06, 2012 at 05:12 PM
It would be terribly disappointing if the School Board votes to approve a Community Committee on Student Rights and Responsibilities that has so litte community reresentation, being totally overwhelmed by FCPS employees. This is not the way to determine what the community wants in the vital area of school discipline. Let's hope this plan is substantially modified.
What? September 06, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Reading comprehension, people. It says "Twelve school board member appointments (with district board members selecting from among their constituents, and at-large members choosing a community member from anywhere in the county) ". Now, if the board members don't choose non-eduction professionals from whitin the community, preferably parents that have had some experience with the current policy, then everyone can scream. While 12 is still not a majority (out of 29 for those that don't read or count), it sould be enough for other voices to be heard. If a board member makes, in your humble opinion, a poor choice, then by all means, cry foul.
John Farrell September 06, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Anonymous What? Save the condescendcion for the completely naive among Patch readers. Those who have watched Gatehouse play this game with high school start times, the grading scale and every other initiative originating in the community have seen this movie before and know how it ends. The staff dominates the committee meetings, ignores input from authoritative sources in academia and the committee report announces with great fanfare that everything is perfect in Gatehouse land, where only the "Fairfax way" is pedagogically sound. Which is a fantasy-land completely disconnected with the actual classroom. It's already started with Mr. Torres rewriting to School Board resolution to reduce this "community committee" function to merely a proof-reading exercise devoid of any policy recommendations. Is it any wonder that keen observes of Gatehouse saw the School Board vote to delay reform of the FCPS discipline as a betrayal of the commitment made by the majority of the School Board members, during last years election, to require parental notification before questioning of children. It's disheartening how quickly rookie School Board members become disingenuous and manipulative. "The Borg are all powerful, resistance is futile; you will be absorbed."
DogLove September 07, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Agree with you Mr. Farrell, just correcting C. Ford's claim that SAC members are "'selected' by a group of adults."
jan September 19, 2012 at 02:20 PM
WOW, that is amazing how stacked that is with FCPS cronies-look at that committee, how many nonFCPS representatives do you see? I see two-and they serve on FCPS committees-where is the community representation (not school board appointees cause they are already "sleeping with" the school board, you need real experts not more (same old same old) stacked deck cronies.

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