FCPS addresses backlash on zero tolerance rules

FCPS Superintendent Jack Dale proposed ten modifications to the county’s disciplinary procedures after “listening to … parents and members of the community,” Dale said in a press release late March. The school board subsequently adopted Dale’s proposals in principle, though the specific implementation has yet to be determined.

“It pretty much blows a quarter for a kid,” principal Jay Pearson said at a May 11 community meeting on FCPS disciplinary policies. Pearson was referring to the way the disciplinary process drastically slows for a suspended student with a recommendation for expulsion, removing them from school for lengthy periods.

“I’ve seen that window just grow over the last few years,” he said.

Parents at the meeting mainly questioned Pearson about the severity of FCPS drug regulations, commonly referred to as “zero tolerance.”

“We’re trying to grow [students] and help them learn, not turn them into deviants,” Parent Teacher Student Association president Mike Hirka said.

The majority of the proposed modifications deal with students who have been suspended and recommended for expulsion. A plurality of those cases last school year—43 percent—stemmed from a violation of zero tolerance.

Two FCPS students, Nick Stuban and Josh Anderson, committed suicide after receiving disciplinary action for “zero tolerance” related issues.

Nick Stuban’s father, Steve Stuban, attended the community meeting. He viewed Dale’s proposals as “a good first step,” but was concerned about the continued presence of involuntary transfers as a potential part of the process.

“The hearing office has defaulted to transferring everything,” he said. “I think Nick could’ve gone through everything if it wasn’t for that involuntary transfer.”

Sue Anderson, mother of Josh Anderson, described the proposals as the “bare minimum,” stating that the continued presence of involuntary transfers was “unconscionable.”

Anderson maintains a blog named Remembering Josh, which she describes a as a “web memorial.”

“The [zero tolerance] process … is responsible in part, with Josh’s own death,” Anderson said via e-mail. The deaths of Josh and Nick drew criticism of zero tolerance from local advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR).

FZTR commented on Dale’s proposals via an open letter. The organization supported the modifications in principle but felt that they were insufficient.

The Fairfax County School board discussed further changes to the FCPS disciplinary procedure and SR&R handbook in a work session on Monday. Results were not available as of press time.