Fairfax County Public Schools is struggling to find a balance between safety and fairness when it comes to disciplining students, following complaints from parents who say the current system is sometimes too harsh.
Almost a year ago, 14-year-old Hayley Russell was removed from her middle school because of the prescription acne medication in her locker. Students are required to notify the school nurse about any prescription drugs.
Hayley said she forgot, so she was suspended for more than seven weeks and forced to transfer to another school.
"Her grades the first two quarters this year plummeted because she was out of school for seven-plus weeks last year, and then socially it was very difficult because she was at a school where she didn't really have a base of support either from the students or the teachers," said her mother, Helen Russell, who finds the zero-tolerance policy too harsh.
Superintendent Jack Dale hopes to improve the disciplinary process.
"When kids make a stupid mistake, we're asking the principals to use their best judgment about what's the most appropriate intervention for those kids," Dale said. "Look at it in the context of , Is this a string of things or one time only?"
Many parents feel that they are shut out of the disciplinary process, so Dale is proposing recorded hearings and notifying parents sooner.
The following suggestions will be presented to the school board Monday for its approval:
- Refine the guidelines on parental notification for potential suspensions and expulsions and help parents prepare for the hearing process.
- Enhance communication related to the Student Responsibilities and Rights (SR&R) handbook with a goal of improving understanding by parents and students.
- Audio record all hearings.
- Shorten the timeline between disciplinary incidents and the disposition of the decision.
- Provide instructional support during the suspension and provide an intervention education program, if appropriate to the offense.
- Authorize school principals to act as the Superintendent’s designee for the purpose of conducting a preliminary review in individual cases at their schools where a student is found to be in possession of his or her own prescription medication.
- Develop a data collection-process analysis to include academic success, recidivism, and on-time graduation.
- Create an exit survey for parents to complete at the end of disciplinary hearings.
- Review and reinforce the training program for School Board members and staff members to achieve consistent implementation of the disciplinary process.
- Continue the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program in all schools.
- The School Board work session is scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 4 at Gatehouse Administration Center.
School board members and staff would be retrained to ensure consistent implementation of the disciplinary process.