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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 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.  

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