A sense of belonging. A desire for civility. Both seem necessary for a welcoming and respectful society. But what happens when these ideas backfire?
Fairfax County is in the midst of a heated debate over its school discipline policies, a topic in the spotlight after the suicide earlier this year of a 15-year-old boy who had been suspended from W.T. Woodson High School. We’ll hear from community residents, Superintendent Jack Dale, and school board members in our latest edition of “Kojo In Your Community.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom the McLean Community Center in McLean, Va., it's "Kojo in Your Community." It's no secret that Fairfax County is a heavy hitter in the world of education, one of the largest school districts in the country and one of the best. Fairfax has resources other school systems can only dream of. Parents here are deeply involved in their kid's education and more than 90 percent of students graduate on time. So when Fairfax debates an educational topic, everyone takes notice.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd right now, everyone is watching as Fairfax engages in an emotional debate over its school discipline policies. Emotional because of the suicide of a 15-year-old boy named Nick Stuban who had been suspended from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax. The Fairfax County school board is now reviewing its disciplinary policies and that review gets at the core issues we all face in our communities. How do you balance the safety of the group with the rights of an individual?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhat responsibilities does a school system have? What responsibilities do parents have? How do we define what's fair? And how do we teach right from wrong while also leaving the door open for redemption? Well, we've got a full house here in McQueen -- in McLean to discuss that issue. And also on hand to help the conversation along is Jack Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County public schools. Jack Dale, thank you for joining us.
MR. JACK DALEThank you.
NNAMDITina Hone is At Large Member of the Fairfax County school board. She's been calling for a review of the school disciplinary policies for several years. Tina Hone, thank you for joining us. Janie Strauss is a member of the Fairfax County school board representing the Dranesville District, which includes McLean. Janie Strauss, thank you for joining us.
MS. JANIE STRAUSSThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd Bill Reichhardt is an attorney with the firm of William B. Reichhardt and Associates in Fairfax, Va., which does work in school discipline and special education cases in Northern Virginia and represents the parents of children involved in disciplinary hearings and actions. Now, if we can start with you, Jack Dale. Can you just tell us a little bit about how the disciplinary process works in Fairfax County?
DALEIn 25 words or less, huh?
NNAMDIIn 25 seconds or less.
DALESeconds or less, okay. The disciplinary process basically starts with at the school level. Well, it actually starts with the school board reviewing and establishing a certain set of a rules and responsibilities for students and consequences for some misbehavior. It also starts even earlier than that as we go through training programs to teach kids appropriate behavior, non-bullying behavior, safe behavior in schools.
DALEThen if somebody goes through or has some infraction, then that's dealt with at the principal's level. There's sometimes cases where Virginia law requires the principal to recommend a higher level of discipline, usually referred to as expulsions, which then goes into a hearing officers and ultimately to the school board in the most severe cases. So low level things actually even start in the classroom and probably even lower levels start at home where we don't even see things.
NNAMDIJanie Strauss, can you talk about the role of the school board as opposed to the role of the superintendent and the disciplinary process?
STRAUSSSure. First of all, the school board, by our own priorities, we care about the safety and health of all of our children. Our -- when we set our values, we say, what is most important is to make sure that all of our children come through our schools, graduate, are healthy and learn what it is that their parents want them to learn. We care about the children who make poor judgments at times and we care about the children who don't.
STRAUSSSo from the school boards perspective -- on the one hand, under Virginia code, if it comes to a decision of resulting in expulsion, and those are the most severe cases, under Virginia code, it is only the school board that can actually make the final say on that. But at the same time, we are out in schools talking with parents, talking to community members and working with our staff. So while we are at the end of the process, we do care and listen to -- and this is an opportunity for us to open up our whole hearing process and figure out, are there ways that we can help all of us get through this.
STRAUSSWe mourn the loss of any child and we certainly want all children to be successful.
NNAMDIBill Reichhardt, where do you fit into this process?
MR. BILL REICHARDTWell, by the time a parent and a child come into my office, they're feeling a number of things, desperate, angry, confused, marginalized in a process where they may feel they need and many often times they do need, some legal consultation. In the context of school discipline cases, we are usually involved at a time after a child has been removed, typically informed that he or she is suspended for 10 days with a recommendation for expulsion.
MR. BILL REICHARDTAnd that recommendation for expulsion then carries with it a mediate -- a mediary disciplinary hearing, an administrative hearing which is a very important hearing. That's a hearing of fact-finding where witnesses can -- witness statements are taken and where recommendations ultimately are made for either diversion or for expulsion at the school board. So the question to us is from parents, what is this about? What can I expect?
MR. BILL REICHARDTAnd sometimes we're seeing parents coming out of those hearings. They went in without an attorney. And many times we hear parents tell us, "We just don't know what just happened. We feel that we were marginalized in the process to some degree. We participate in the hearing, we're told that the expulsion -- suspension, rather, is going to continue until such time as there is a written recommendation and how do we deal with that?"
MR. BILL REICHARDTSo our involvement can involve children, which is, have a disciplinary action. Disciplinary actions with criminal charges. These could be criminal charges that occur outside of a school or inside of a school. And then we also deal with children who have special needs. They're designated as special education eligible children who are recommended for suspension or expulsion and also have criminal charges.
MR. BILL REICHARDTSo we're dealing with a complex set of facts sometimes.
NNAMDIJust interested, how many people in this room graduated from Fairfax County public high schools? How many of you got into any kind of trouble while you were in high school, by applause? Same number, huh. And do you recall how you were treated when you got into trouble in high school and would you care to comment on that? Please raise your hand. We'll just get to you as soon as you raise your hand.
NNAMDIBut before we do that, Tina Hone, we just heard a process described, several aspects of it. What's right with this process? What's wrong with it?
MS. TINA HONEWhat's right with the process is that there are opportunities for students to be treated humanely. What's wrong with the process is there are opportunities for the process to treat a child inhumanely. And one of the things that's difficult to do here on a radio station is to really delve into the complexity of the issues. I got involved with this three years ago and it was on an issue that had nothing to do with zero tolerance.
MS. TINA HONEIt was on an issue having to do with disparities in African-American and Latino kids having a disproportionate presence in the discipline process, which parallels the achievement gap. That was my initial interest in this. But I became deeply involved in it when a case came to my attention of a young man who was suspended, not expelled, and I'm going to emphasize that distinction even though it's a distinction without a difference.
MS. TINA HONEThe impact on the child, whether or not you're suspended or expelled, in many cases, is the same. You're shuffled out of your base school into another school. And so what is difficult in, sort of, assessing the entire process here is being able to delve into all of the key issues that are causing the confusion. That is really at the core of a lot of -- of what we're facing. It's a confusing process. It's a scary process.
NNAMDII'd like to hear people in the room who graduated from Fairfax County public schools to talk about whether or not you got into trouble, whether you were ever punished. I went to high school in a third world country and never got suspended, never got expelled, but they had corporal punishment, ouch. Yes, ma'am.
MS. EILEEN MURDOCKHi, my name is Eileen Murdock and I've shared this story with the Fairfax County school board. I attended Mount Vernon High School in the '80s and I came from a kind of troubled family home. And there were a lot of problems there. And consequently you find, when there's a troubled family home that the kids will act out and they can be impulsive. And I was really struggling with a lot of issues and I think reflecting back on it, I think it was a cry for help.
MS. EILEEN MURDOCKI came to school under the influence of alcohol. I'm not proud of that decision. It was really a poor decision. But what my administrators did at Mount Vernon is that they really reached out to me and I received no disciplinary action. As a matter of fact, I received nothing but care and concern and they just -- they redoubled their efforts and they checked up on me and they told me that I had so much potential and they didn't want to see me throw it away.
MS. EILEEN MURDOCKAnd they -- and consequently, because my teachers showed such faith in me, I really put forth an amazing effort and I went to college. My first -- I graduated 11th in my class in college, I was named the outstanding senior English major. I was involved in so many things. I think that confidence that my teachers -- and my principal took me into his office and the fact that they really cared, instead of being punitive to me, was a turning point.
MS. EILEEN MURDOCKAnd the other thing I wanted to say here, and I'll be very brief, is we're here to discuss, basically, involuntary transfers. And that's what happened in Stuban case. And there's been a lot of controversy with that because a lot of people from Fairfax zero tolerance reform have discovered that there is no code that grants the power to do that. And so the fact that they're using this punitive, harsh draconian method and they don't have authority from the general assembly of Virginia is an incredible sticking point that could actually result in legal action.
MS. EILEEN MURDOCKI don't know where it stands right now, but the thing that I want to bring up and I think this is something I really want to reach out and say to Superintendent Dale and the rest of the school board and the board of supervisors, a quick look back to history, I'm sure we're all familiar with Machiavelli. He's a very astute political analysis of his day. And what's going on here is so typified in what he said regarding government.
MS. EILEEN MURDOCKHe said, government, when there's a problem, it's like a disease. It's really hard to detect in the beginning, but easy to fix. You know, like, cancer, if you catch it early, you can just get rid of it. But when the problem is allowed to fester and grow, it's so easy to detect, but nearly impossible to fix without an incredible effort, almost a revolutionary effort. And that's where we are right now. We have a cancer in Fairfax County that's growing and we need to excise it the best way we can. And that -- and we have to really look at the legalities of involuntary transfer. So thank you for the time.
NNAMDIAnother unique contribution to "Kojo in Your Community." This is the first time anybody has ever quoted Machiavelli's, "The Prince," during a discussion on "Kojo in Your Community." We are coming to you from the McLean Community Center in McLean, Va. We're discussing school discipline in Fairfax County. Superintendent Jack Dale, what support system now exists for troubled kids in school, in Fairfax County?
DALEExtensive. In fact, one of the things we may want to do is ask one of principals there in the front row for that -- for the first hand kinds of things. But I appreciate her story about what happened. I think, you said at Mount Vernon High School. Because that is not unlike what we attempt to do now with kids who are -- make us, in your case, to borrow your phrase, I think, a silly mistake or something equivalent to that.
DALEBecause that's really what our job is, is to try and help kids learn from mistakes and then get them back on the right kind of a path like you did and become very, very successful. So that's our whole goal through the discipline process or the intervention process. I think it's an interesting one that we should -- we're missing here and although you focused it on one particular aspect, with the school board's support about four or five years ago, we began an extensive training program in every one of our schools dealing with what we call positive behavior support or intervention and support program.
DALEWhich basically means we want to, number one, teach kids appropriate behavior because we are finding lots of kids coming to school who, quite frankly, lack the kind of positive social skills that we needed to see. So we said, we need to teach that. So we began, at a very young age, kindergarten, first grade and even implemented some of these programs at our high school. And over the last five years, what we've seen is a significant decrease in discipline incidents and so that says, hey, let's teach the kids then teach kids well and then they can behave appropriately.
DALEWhat's also good to see is the number of kids with significant discipline issues, those that I think lots of us are talking about, called long-term suspensions or expulsions, have dramatically declined in the last five years. And I think in large part because we've paid attention to trying to teach kids up front proper behavior, proper etiquette, proper behavior with one another, trying to teach kids not bullying. In fact, we do an awful lot of that right now, the anti-bullying campaigns.
DALEAnd so it's had a positive effect, I think, on kid's behavior. So I think that alone is our guidance counseling program is largely responsible for doing lots of that training. We have in all of our schools psychologists, social workers to deal with. To borrow the lady's conversation about her own past of having troubled family issues, then we have guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, et cetera, available to work with our kids during any one of their personal crisis times.
DALEWe also intervene in drug intervention programs and other alcohol abuse programs with kids to get them that kind of help so that they can in fact then be successful.
NNAMDIIt's "Kojo In Your Community." We're coming to you from the McLean Community Center in McLean, Va. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing school discipline in Fairfax County Public Schools and we do have a member of the audience here who has a question or comment. Go right ahead, please. ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1I didn't come here with the intention of talking this evening, but the topic strikes with me. Very lovely young lady, whom I know, was expelled in her junior year. She did something wrong. It wasn't a violent thing. It was something she shouldn't have done, but nonetheless, she was expelled. The family had legal representation, went to the hearing examiner's meeting and the attorney basically came out and described the whole process as being a hyena court.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1And it was. It was very much sensationalized within the room. Nothing like, you know, if you or I were to go court, you know, accused of any sort of an offense. And the most slapping blow was when these hearing examiners then put in their own words this big crazy story of what they decided happened, okay, not in the child's words or the parent's words, though they had written letters as well in the past, and that's the letter that is in that child's school record today. And the only reason that she could go to Devonshire, when that was still open, to finish her high school degree was that she was forced to sign something that she felt was not true or her parents would've had to pay private school and her father's disabled.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1So, you know, I've been watching this on channel 9 and I've been infuriated and I've been very close to calling people over so I'm happy to just let you know you have to revamp that system. It's disgusting.
NNAMDIThank you very much. The bigger question here seems to be how do we set a good example for kids and also be fair, at the same time. And I'd like to hear your opinions on that, if you happen to be in the audience. But Tina Hone?
HONENo. I actually wanted to respond to the facts that Dr. Dale set out and I'm not disagreeing with what he said. But what Dr. Dale talked about is what we have done that works. There's a whole layer of things that need to be done to make our system a system that's worthy of a world-class system like Fairfax County.
HONEWe are in the position to lead the nation on this and instead of, like, patting ourselves on the back about the things that we've done, let's pay attention to those kids for whom this process didn't work.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to get back to the audience member's question about involuntary transfers. Are students being transferred to new schools, in your opinion, too quickly or without enough thoughtfulness?
HONEWhat's very important to know is that this practice of involuntary transfers is that. It's a practice. It's a habit. And the situation is this, Mrs. Straus set out that our priority is to have a safe school. We absolutely want safe schools, but having a safe school does not mean that we cannot also have a system that is balanced and fair and really looks at the impact of the decisions we make.
HONEThe other thing that's striking about our school system is that for a data-driven school system, there is a dearth of data on those kids who are caught in the discipline process. We have no data to measure whether or not our practice, our habit, of transferring kids from one school to another actually works. There's no data.
NNAMDIJanie Strauss, what do state regulations say about involuntary transfers.
STRAUSSNothing. In state -- and this is a little complicated. And as I say, as we are looking at all of this, we are looking very carefully at state code.
NNAMDIWe've got time.
STRAUSSIn state code -- and I'm going to start at the most extreme end. It is -- there are certain violations under state code that are simply against the law, drugs, weapons, et cetera. The school board is given...
NNAMDII guess it's the et cetera that concerns me.
STRAUSSNo. It's really weapons and drugs and it is described in detail in the state code. The school board does not have to expel. We can -- we are given the leeway to find special circumstances. In state code, it is either the school board, the superintendent or the superintendent's designee or can find special circumstances.
STRAUSSAnd then, when you have either special circumstances or whatever the offense is just simply not as serious. There are a variety of consequences, then again, as the community discusses this, we are well aware that we need to make sure that the consequence fits the crime and that there is an opportunity to help and move forward.
STRAUSSSo within the list of possibilities, there can be a couple of days of suspension or there could be nothing. It could be simply return to school. We got it settled it out, return to school. There can be a small, few days of suspension. There can be, if it is in sort of that grey area, a student can be suspended for a long period of time and sent back to their neighborhood school.
STRAUSSThere can be a situation where the student is suspended. They're not expelled, but they are asked to go another school. If it falls into the more serious category of expulsion, then we very rarely actually expel a child without services, maybe a handful, three or four in a year. If a child is actually expelled for a serious incident, they generally are put into a special program, an alternative learning center.
STRAUSSWe have other alternative programs that we work either in conjunction with the county or the court system. So there is a whole variety of options and actually there was, there is a court case in Richmond dealing with, does a school board have the authority, in the circumstances, to have a child go to another regular school?
STRAUSSIn other words, not inflict an alternative program, but actually going to a regular program. And there was a court case in Richmond in 2006 that indicated, that school was in Virginia, have the authority to use that whole range of consequences depending on the circumstances involved.
NNAMDIAnd Jack Dale, is it your opinion that that entire range of consequences is used in Fairfax County Public Schools?
REICHARDTI absolutely disagree.
NNAMDIWhy do you disagree?
REICHARDTWell, for our perspective, representing literally hundreds of parents and children who have gone through these hearings, not only in Fairfax County but in other jurisdictions in this state, let me just take the example of a first offender, possession of marijuana. That is one of categories under state law for which the school is required to start out recommending expulsion.
REICHARDTEven for a first offender. However, there are special circumstances. Those special circumstances are not published. They are not in any regulation. There is no law or regulation that prohibits the school district from transferring as a disciplinary matter a child out of his base school into another school, that's not against the law.
REICHARDTThe check on school boards, under state law, is a review by the circuit court. The law that applies in circuit court is you can only overturn a school board if their decision was arbitrary, capricious or lack jurisdiction, in essence, illegal. It is a very high standard and that statue says the school board, the court shall do whatever the school board did unless it makes those findings.
REICHARDTWhat happens in Fairfax and what is still happening in Fairfax, it is almost a routine disposition we prepare people to hear that at this intermediate hearing level, before you even get to the school board, where most of these cases are resolved it is true. In Fairfax few kids are actually expelled. What expulsion means is you're out on the street for 365 days. You don't go to school at all, okay, that's the definition of expulsion.
REICHARDTThat doesn't happen to many kids in Fairfax. What happens to a majority of even first offenders in that kind of scenario is that the hearing officer level, they'll get a letter back saying, we believe that the behavior you've engaged warrants an expulsion. But we hold in abeyance and in lieu of that, you are transferred to another school. It is a practice. I think it needs to change. I think people...
NNAMDIThank you very much. We have a question in the rear over here. Go right ahead, please, ma'am.
SHARICEMine is not only a question, it's a comment. I'm Sharice (sp?) . I'm the chair of the NAACP Education chair and I just want to really thank and commend school board member Tina Hone for all that she's done over the years. To really address and to bring this issue of disciplinary in our schools. And I would like to know, you know, Superintendent Jack Dale, you talked about in the elementary schools and how you talked about policies.
SHARICEAnd my question is, those policies are actually punitive. And I speak -- I've seen African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans in our primary schools and basically you have a record that is started and it's based upon the schools. And parents don't really have a right to opt-in and, you know, it's really, like I said. It's very punitive. And I would like to know what are you doing to address this issue? And, you know, to really make it, you know, child-centered again? Make it where school is fun, where children really want to come to school and be a part of the process and not have this file follow them until they graduate high school and or any of the -- some of the things we've talked about here.
NNAMDIBefore I have the superintendent respond, because there are other people who have similar questions, allow me to get a few more audience members in and I'll make sure that that question is ultimately addressed. Here now we have -- go right ahead, please, sir.
MR. GREGORY FLECKHi, my name is Gregory Fleck. I go to Falls Church High School and I feel that there needs to be more activities for the kids to get involved in and not get into trouble. And if the kids are in trouble and are recommended for expulsion, they need to be put out into programs, such as getting involved into theatre or chorus or any type of extracurricular activity that they have in school.
MR. GREGORY FLECKAnd another thing I would like to comment about, when a kid or student is recommended for expulsion, I mean, suspended and for expulsion, I think that there needs to be more concern about the education afterwards. There needs to be immediate education afterwards and during that expulsion period because it is hard for a kid, such as myself, and I've went through this, to have education. I did not have education for a period of days and I felt I was left out the system and just, probably just beat with a stick and left there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #4I mean, I know that within so many days, especially a student with an IEP, you need to have tutors come to the home. During the hearing, we found out about this, this was complete shock to us. We'd never been through anything like this before. It was a nonviolent offense, it wasn't something I felt that expulsion should have even have been put on the table.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #4Because he has an IEP we were supposed to have tutors in the home, I believe, within 10 days. I had to make the calls myself. He wasn't even in the system. I called the middle school. I called the county offices trying to find out, what do I do about getting tutors in the home for him so he doesn't get any farther behind?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #4You know, I felt like we were left out in the cold. There was no place to turn. Here was a child who had never been in trouble before, was simply, do you mind if I say why?
NNAMDIYou just asked his permission to say something?
#4I was asking his permission, yes.
NNAMDIAnd he gave it, too, didn't he?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3He was not caught with any drugs, but he admitted to that he had purchased them once before. Suspended, recommended for expulsion and I was told at the school level that that was standard practice. It was a shock. I thought he would be suspended for a certain time and we would be handling this at home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3I was told that afternoon, after being questioned all day -- I wasn't even told until the afternoon, at 2:00 in the afternoon that he had been in their administrative offices all day long.
NNAMDIWe really appreciate that testimony here, but I do have to remind you that school officials will not be able to discuss cases, but we'll have to raise the broader question in the future, where can kids turn? Got to take a breath for this one because it's quite emotional and it's one of the reasons you're all here this evening, but encompasses the question that the young lady raised earlier.
NNAMDISandy Stuban is the mother of Nick Stuban, the 15 year-old boy who committed suicide in January. Sandy has ALS also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease and was unable to attend tonight's show. But she reached out to us yesterday because she wanted to pose a question during this discussion. Sandy is unable to speak on her own so she has a special computer that in effect speaks for her. We agreed to record her question and so now, here it is.
MS. SANDY STUBANDr. Dale, I'm Sandy Stuban, Nick Stuban's mom. I regret that I could not attend this community forum, but my husband, Steve, is there on behalf of both of us. Steve and I are still overwhelmed with grief after our son Nick committed suicide in January, over two months into protracted disciplinary process administered by the Fairfax County Public Schools.
MS. SANDY STUBANFairfax's disciplinary process is broken. The community's trust has been shaken, yet Fairfax continues to implement its disciplinary process unchanged and unchecked. You and the school board are now engaged in conducting a review of the discipline process and I hope for the sake of the 175,000 children under your charge that true reforms are finally considered, accepted and implemented.
MS. SANDY STUBANIn the interim, can you explain why immediate changes are not being implemented pending review of the whole process? These immediate changes would be, first, to transcribe in their entirety, each disciplinary hearing, preferably by video and audio. Secondly, in the absence of imminent danger, to notify parents prior to school officials questioning students about any incident that reasonably could be viewed as leading to the child's suspension or expulsion.
MS. SANDY STUBANAnd lastly, to place a moratorium on any involuntary transfer away from a child's base school unless that decision is promptly reviewed and confirmed by the entire school board. Thank you for considering my questions. I look forward to your responses and commitment to holistically review and to format CPS's disciplinary process.
NNAMDIAnd thank you Sandy Steuben for raising that question. Sandy Steuben, as we mentioned, is the mother of Nick Steuben, a 15-year-old boy who committed suicide in January. Jack Dale, can we talk process here? If there is a review taking place, why is it that during the course of that review, interim steps cannot be taken along, if not all, some of the lines that Sandy Steuben recommends.
DALEI actually think that we can take -- and we are, in fact, doing some of those things now. Some things will take a broader review by the community and the board, but some of those steps that she was suggesting, trying to do it in a much more expeditious fashion. I had mentioned to some people, the unfortunate thing in part of your budget cutbacks have been reducing the number of hearing officers and that does not at all help in expedited hearings.
DALEAnd I think even Bill would agree with that, that we need to have those in much more expeditious process, and not have a long-term loss of education as the boy was talking about from Falls Church. I think that as well as providing services for kids who are undergoing -- educational services for kids who are undergoing the discipline review process, that's something we're looking at very seriously, immediately too.
REICHARDTI -- Jack's comment about the number of hearing officers and streamlining this process I think is well taken. My ideas about this are perhaps a little bit different. In one respect, I would like to see a decentralization of a lot of these cases.
REICHARDTWe just don't need 680 -- there are approximately 680-some cases that went through last school year. One alarming part of that is that 44 percent of those were special education students.
REICHARDTThat is an incredibly disproportionate number, and I have a concern about that. I think that parents and principals are able to resolve a number of these issues, particularly first offenders, non-violent offenders, at the school level, and leave the centralized hearings perhaps for the more difficult cases. The more complicated cases.
NNAMDIIt's "Kojo in Your Community," and we're coming to you from the Alden Theater at the McLean Community Center. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe are coming to you from the McLean Community Center in McLean, Virginia. We are discussing school discipline in Fairfax County. Just before we go back to the audience, Bill Reichardt, could you talk a little bit about your experience in other jurisdictions, how is it different?
REICHARDTWell, it varies, but there are some of the same problems. In some jurisdictions, they do record these hearings, and that is very useful. It's very useful for the determination of fact. In some jurisdictions, most of them in their investigatory process, ask the child to write a written statement. I've talked to many parents who sit across my desk in different jurisdictions and I'll say to the child, you wrote a statement, and the parent looks at them and says, you did? But they don't have copies of it.
REICHARDTBut some jurisdictions will tell the child, particularly if a school resource officer is involved, that the statement is voluntary. And they're put on notice that if you write a statement, it's not a Miranda warning, but it's a statement that this statement could be used -- the written statement could be used in a disciplinary process, including a potential recommendation for expulsion.
REICHARDTIt's just -- it's just fairness, okay? We expect our students in all jurisdictions in Virginia to sign that they understand the schools rights and responsibilities of students. It's a requirement actually to enroll. School boards are required by state law to promulgate these regulations. Those are the standards of conduct. And when we ask students to sign that they understand it, I really don't understand why we can't ask students to understand that when they do a written statement in an investigation that it's voluntary and how it will be used.
REICHARDTMany jurisdictions do that. Many jurisdictions will give the copy immediately to the parent and to the child, and these are things we can do here.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to Kaye Kory here in the audience. Because Delegate Kory you sit in the General Assembly, and you actually introduced legislation to try to get the system changed. That legislation failed, but if you can briefly explain exactly what it tried to do.
DEL. KAYE KORYThe bill that I introduced that passed the house of delegates unanimously, but failed in the Senate, would require school administrators, principals or principals designee to notify parents when an incident that is serious enough that it would likely lead to disciplinary process occurs. That's exactly what Mr. Reinhardt just talked about, early parental notification. My goal was to create a preventive partnership between schools and parents. That bill, when it failed in the Senate, failed largely because of the results of the lobbying of Fairfax County Public Schools and the statewide school board association.
NNAMDIWe know one principal has pointed out that every parent wants the system to be tough until their kid gets involved. And I'd like to know what the parents in the audience think about that apparent inconsistency. Now, your turn, Megan McLaughlin.
MS. MEGAN MCLAUGHLINThank you. I'm very concerned as a parent advocate because right now our discipline policies are deeply flawed. Anyone who spends any time in our community right now across Fairfax it's conversations over dinner, in the restaurant, on the soccer fields. Parents are telling their children don't speak to school authorities. That runs counter to our educational process. We want children to respect and trust their school administrators, not to be afraid of them, not to fear them, not to distrust them.
MS. MEGAN MCLAUGHLINTo the point that Dr. Dale said about budget needs, $1.6 million was spent to run the discipline hearing office. There's seven disciplinary officers and their staff. If we go with Bill Reichardt's recommendation, you decentralize the process. You bring it back to those of us who grew up in the '70s -- I'm class of '85 -- where the principals, the teachers, the coaches who know these kids better than anyone, help make the decision on cases that are nonviolent first-time offenders.
MS. MEGAN MCLAUGHLINThere's no reason to drag over 600 children a year through the Fairfax County discipline hearing process which has been deemed not only excessive in their punishments, but also harsh and harmful to children. We can do better in Fairfax County.
NNAMDIThank you very much. We have a member of our audience right there.
MAHONEYMahoney. I'm a parent with two children in McLean schools, and really my couple of concerns address your recent question about -- I have one kid that's sailing through high school. She's not a problem. And I have a son who in, you know, in first grade or second grade, you know, looked under the jungle gym and saw someone's underpants and had to be scolded by a teacher, you know, because of, you know, sexual issues, when she was in a dress with her underwear showing and he happened to look up.
MAHONEYSo I kind of see, you know, he's had some issues, and it makes me more aware of the fact that my son's gonna turn out fine because he's impulsive, but he's got a solid family. We don't have money concerns. We've got extended support. But I kind of echo the concerns of the lady from the NAACP that there's so many kids out there that are having problems at home, and they're not getting the help they need at school. And the scenarios that we're hearing about, the kindergartener being expelled because they had a water gun in their backpack and you can't bring a serrated plastic knife in your lunchbox because that's considered a weapon.
MAHONEYAnd all those extreme situations that we've read about year over year, those just make us afraid of you. And Janie, you've done wonderful things for my kids' schools at Haycock and Longfellow, and some wonderful things. I -- this one to me is unfathomable why we aren't fixing this. And believe me, if the parents -- if you don't think the parents are warning their kids not to admit to things and to -- oh, my God, get that out of your backpack, it could be considered a weapon, and there's just this feeling of fear. It's crazy.
MAHONEYAnd I'm also concerned because my son is at Longfellow, and there's this anti-bullying, and there's so many things where someone could call it sexual harassment, or they could call it bullying, and the person that's being accused, it seems like they're instant -- not that my son's been involved of any of that, but they're instantly assumed to be guilty, and that's what my concern is. And the fact that someone over there bought some marijuana nowhere on the school property, I don't understand why that's a school issue and why his life should be ruined by that.
MAHONEYI mean, let's talk about the really serious issues that -- of kids that have repeat issues. You're messing up really good kids, or kids that just need some help here. You're not -- that's what my concern is.
NNAMDIWell, allow me -- allow me to talk about an extreme situation that happened in the District of Columbia, and wonder how that would likely be handled in the Fairfax County system. Tina Hone, just to play devil's advocate, there was a case in D.C. last week where an elementary school student brought crack cocaine to school and shared it with friends. Would you put the investigation of a case like that to be put on hold while a parent is notified? There were several children who ingested that crack cocaine on the school premises at the time and got sick. What would you recommend in a situation like that?
HONEI believe the child was six or seven years old?
HONEAnd what lesson are we teaching a six or seven year old by expelling them? Do we know if that child even knew what he or she was doing? I appreciate that you want to play devil's advocate, but the fact of the matter is, these are very difficult situations. It is a six-year-old child. I am not going to label a six-year-old child for the rest of their lives as a drug dealer. I'm not going to do that. And I can tell you, there have been cases in Fairfax County where we have expelled kids as young as six for situations that are (makes noise) , but it's a six-year-old for God sake.
HONEAnd I think we need to think about that. I also, though, Kojo -- and I hope we have a chance to do this. This has been a dramatic discussion, and -- but I don't want us leaving here feeling like there's not a path to success. There are six simple steps that could get us so far along the road of actually making this system work. We need to collect data. We need to be true to who we are as a data-driven system.
HONEWe need to start looking at that data to make sure we're preventing kids from getting in trouble. We need to decode the terminology. Parents don't know the difference between suspensions and expulsions. We need to give support to kids on suspension. We need to give parent notification, and we need to stop looking at suspending kids and moving kids out of their base school as the cornerstone of our discipline process. We just need to do that.
NNAMDIYes, ma'am. You have a question or comment?
DORIS RAYHi. My name is Doris Ray and I live in Fairfax County. I am concerned about this policy, particularly because I think certainly there is a difference between violent acts that represent direct threats to other students or faculty, and things like carrying weapons. But I -- between that and first-time offenders who do something stupid and need to learn from that, and I wonder where the practice of making people stay in school and work hard and tow the line and learn, and maybe be exempted for some time for something that they like, like athletics or whatever. But these are things that make sense perhaps it seems to me, rather than suspending and threatening expulsion at the get-go. But my other concern is that...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly.
RAY...that this is very -- that the whole process is very adversarial, and it is also demonstrated in the way Fairfax County Schools operate when students with disabilities and their parents attempt to get special education services through an IEP or a Section 504 plan when they are kept for six months or a year before they can even get a plan in place, and don't get the services they need, and perhaps that's why they're doing what they're doing.
NNAMDII'm afraid we're almost out of time. Jack Dale, where do we go from here?
DALEWe have -- a lot of the suggestions that people are making are actually under review. And as I think Janie was trying to point out, one of our challenges is going to be trying to hear from the community on some of these. What some people will want to do is expel. Some people do not, and we're trying to find where the community value is on a small number of cases. There's some that I think in the audience and other people would suggest when you have -- when you're dealing drugs and bring weapons on campus, those are cleaner cases, if you will, to deal with, because those kids do need to be removed from that environment.
DALEBut they still need to give some educational services for them. Kids on the other extreme for which we do work with principals in the buildings, and principals intervene, that is I think fairly decent, although we can clean up some of the timeline processes. The other ones in the middle is our greater conversation and surrounds some children who bring drugs in, first time offenders, and the question is what to do, and how do we teach those children that that is not right. Now, the conversation we're going through with the school board, we have a series of work sessions scheduled in the next month.
DALEThe one is April 4 where we continue to dialogue with the board on all of these major issues that we're trying to then resolve to figure what changes in our own regs and policies, consistent with the law, can we in fact make, and do wish to make that reflect the community values.
NNAMDIJack Dale, Tina Hone, Janie Strauss, Bill Reichardt, thank you all for joining us. For you, members of the audience here this evening, your contribution to this conversation was invaluable. Thank you so much for contributing to a civil discourse on a very difficult and emotional issue.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, and Brendan Sweeney, with help from A.C. Valdez, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein. The engineer tonight is Jonathan Charry. We could not have done this broadcast with WAMU's wonderful team of Virginia Clairmont, (unintelligible), Anne Stopper, Amy Benson, and volunteers. Special thanks to everyone here at the Alden Theater and the McLean Community Center, including Sarah, Justin, Jennifer, Colin, Tom, and Jeff. Most importantly, thanks to you for choosing to spend your evening with us. Good night.
Most Recent Shows
We explore what Thanksgiving means for local American Indians and trace the history of the Monacan Nation in Virginia.
Kojo speaks with Arlington Board Chair Katie Cristol about the Amazon HQ2 effect and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine about his probe into the local Catholic Church and his office's legal challenges against the Trump administration.
Call in and share what’s on your mind ––from Amazon's plans to rebrand northern Virginia (National Landing, anyone?) to D.C.'s unanimously-passed restrictions on home sharing sites like AirBnB.