Sandy Stuban said her family is "still overwhelmed with grief" two months after her 15-year-old son's death.
A former W.T. Woodson High School student, shortly after going through the Fairfax County Public School's disciplinary process. His mother asked FCPS Superintendent Jack Dale to reform the discipline process and put more immediate fixes in place during a radio show on Wednesday afternoon.
"The Fairfax disciplinary process is broken," her pre-recorded message played on WAMU 88.5's "Kojo in Your Community." Sandy, who has ALS, relied on automated dictation to share her emotional message.
She asked school officials to transcribe disciplinary hearings, notify parents prior to questioning students, and place a moratorium on involuntary transfers.
As stated in FCPS' Student Rights & Responsibilities Handbook, a drug offense will result in at least a mandatory suspension. School board members, however, are given the leeway to find special circumstances, said school board member Jane Strauss. From those circumstances, a student can be suspended for several days (or not at all), or suspended then sent to another school, or expelled. State code does not require school officials to start the disciplinary process by recommending expulsion. Read that portion of the code here.
A hearing officer will send out a letter notifying the student's family that the school recommends expulsion but that the school board has the final say, according to Bill Reinhard a Fairfax attorney who has helped many families navigate the FCPS disciplinary process. While the family awaits the final decision, the student is removed from their school. The Stubans, Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform and Reinhard are concerned about what affect that limbo has on students.
"[The family is] feeling desperate, angry, confused and marginalized," he said. "Many times we hear parents tell us 'we just don't know what just happened.'"
"The practice of involuntary transfers is a habit," said school board member Tina Hone. "We absolutely want safe schools but having that does not mean we can't have a system that's balanced and fair."
Radio host Kojo Nnamdi polled the McLean Community Center audience and heard from former Mount Vernon High School student Eileen Murdoch. She came to school under the influence of alcohol in the 1980s. Unlike the horror stories told by other disciplinary process veterans, Murdoch wasn't suspended or expelled.
"I received nothing but care and concern," she said. Her teachers and principal checked up on her and told her she had so much potential. Murdoch later graduated 11th in her college class and attributes her success to the self-confidence they instilled in her.
Other audience members cited not-so-picturesque run-ins with the county's discipline process.
Dale pointed to measures the School Board has taken to review the current disciplinary process. He didn't, however, have much to say on Stuban's plea for quick fixes.
The school board to discuss disciplinary reform. The board's second work session on the topic will be held on April 4.