In the past year, two Fairfax County high school students committed suicide while facing the public schools' disciplinary process. Those deaths have triggered much debate among parents, teachers, students, administrators, and elected officials .
Students have it drummed into their heads that they must have good grades, be competitive, and have no marks on their records to achieve their goals. Any failure can be interpreted as a life ending event, at least in terms of their goals and dreams. Being a teenager is almost synonymous with poor decision making.
Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors were so concerned they published a Board Matter questioning FCPS Zero Tolerance Policy and the limitations in the policy to recognize and address student’s ability to see a failure not as an end, but as a learning experience.
In Richmond, Del. Kaye Kory of Fairfax, is constructing a task force to investigate Virginia's student discipline policy in hopes of more clearly defining the procedures. That is why this dialogue is so important: it may be time to change our school policies to reflect the developmental stages of our kids when addressing misdeeds.
The introduction of the FCPS Student’s Rights and Responsibilities, says: "The Fairfax County School Board recognizes that in our free and democratic society the law imposes responsibilities upon public school students and guarantees to them constitutional and other legal rights appropriate to their ages and levels of maturity.“ How should FCPS shape it’s disciplinary procedures to include safety for all while also addressing the immaturity and development of it’s students? Here are our thoughts. Let us know yours.
Jennifer Bargerstock, McLean HS Booster President, Fall 2010 MHS Football Team Parent, married, with two sons and a daughter.
The topic of Zero Tolerance in FCPS is highly emotional for me. I read Washington Posts Marc Fisher’s “Potomac Confidential” on April 5, 2009 with my heart in my throat. Josh Anderson was much like many of the kids I knew in the mid-80’s at McLean High School, much like me (at the time) Freshman football, basketball and track athlete.
Could that happen to my sons? I read that article with them. I told them kids make mistakes, knowing that I can’t protect them or save them and that my words could just be going in one ear and out the other. What if a mistake and the resulting disciplinary procedures caused them to lose hope for their future? I followed Josh’s parent’s blog, Remembering Josh, wondering if I am doing everything I can to shield my kids from the danger of growing up in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Then, it happened again. A young Woodson football player, Nick Stuban (15), who should be a Sophomore right now, took his life after being subjected to FCPS’s Transfer Expulsion Disciplinary procedures. He was buried in his Freshman Football Jersey on January 24, 2011. It was reported that he was out of school for two months, barred from going to his school, events or even Boy Scouts meeting that were held at Woodson. This young boy was completely cut off from his support system, every teacher, coach and friend for a first offense with a fake drug-like substance. This only child did not have his case evaluated compassionately, with his personal situation taken in consideration. He reportedly broke down and sobbed, “Why don’t you believe me?” during his long arduous hearing as it became accusatory, according to the Washington Post article “Suicide Turns Attention to Fairfax Discipline Procedures.” These are our kids being tortured.
My hope is that FCPS develops a way to teach our children consequences without crushing their spirits. I had the pleasure of attending the Fairfax County Youth Football League Awards on Sunday, March 6 (Thank you McLean Mustangs) and witnessed the induction of Coach Bill Yoast into the FCYF Hall of Fame.
You may remember Coach Yoast as the assistant coach to Herman Boone at Washington-Lee (Fairfax County) the first year of integrated football (Remember the Titans 2001). Our county needs to adhere to the advice from its’ very own experienced Coach Yoast when deciding how to treat our children.
“My career started in 1949, a long time ago. I just attended a 50 year reunion a few years back. Every year, there is another 50 year reunion....I tell everyone, Hey - I was around before plastic! They didn’t have mouth pieces, they didn’t have face masks. Our fields were lined with buckets of Lyme and long string, until it changes... But there is one thing that never changes, that is the dreams of the young men you work with. As you are looking into their faces, try to remember that you are looking into the faces of future professionals, not in sports.”
Listen to your coach, FCPS. Teach these kids with empathy and compassion as well as discipline and reasonable consequences so we can continue to produce the kind of student and future professional that can achieve their dreams. Continue the tradition of greatness started in Fairfax County with The Titans of Washington-Lee High School and end the shame of transfer expulsions for our students.
McLean Mom Kathleen Weil is confused. It is very hard to get information related to student disciplinary procedures in Fairfax County public schools. In an effort to try and understand what Zero Tolerance means and where the policy is directed from, the closest explanation I could find came from:
The Fairfax County School Board; 2011 Legislative Program regarding Student Discipline:
“The Fairfax County School Board supports maintaining the current statutory authority of local school boards to adopt regulations permitting them to choose among alternative discipline procedures specified in the Code of Virginia for handling cases of suspension, expulsion, and exclusion. These procedures and sanctions are critical to maintaining safe educational environments and guiding students in developing appropriate behavior and personal accountability.” This, however, says nothing specific about procedure.
So I looked into the Virginia Code but came away more mystified than ever. This is disturbing. Why is it so hard to find information that specifically details the steps taken in FCPS when disciplinary procedures are called for? On top of that, Jack Dale was even quoted in the McLean Connection as saying that Fairfax County Schools do not have a zero tolerance approach to discipline (Feb. 23-Mar 1, 2011 edition). I don’t understand. Chances are other parents don’t either. Considering recent events, one would think administrators would be working to clarify information regarding Zero Tolerance (or whatever it is actually called).
In the FCPS Department of Special Services there is The Student Safety and Wellness Office (SSAW) which is dedicated to promoting prevention and early intervention for violence and drug use in our community (http://www.fcps.edu/dss/ips/ssaw/index.htm). I applaud the school system for this, as well as their work with the Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County Public Schools which is dedicated to promoting prevention and early intervention for violence and drug use in our community (http://www.unifiedpreventioncoalition.org/).
The school system is an important influence in our children’s lives, and the schools, as well as the students must be held accountable for choices made. The developmental stage at which some teenagers are trying out risky behaviors can be a dangerous time. I do wonder what administrators see when confronted with a troubled teen. Do they see the young life in front of them and remember what that time of life is like?
I’d like to know what drives their response to specific behavioral issues. Are they worried about legal issues, challenges from parents, protecting the student, protecting themselves? What are they looking at in the process of deciding how to handle a problem involving a student.
Because, after all, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” (Henry David Thoreau).