FZTR let the FCPS school board know on April 4, after packing the work session room, that proposals to make changes to the discipline system are an excellent start but they don't go far enough and they ignore giant mastodons in the room.
One enormous tusked mammal ignored was involuntary school transfers, which weren't discussed at all. Another was the fact that, just as we predicted, Superintendent Jack Dale hijacked the process. He put the 33 items the board identified last time into the "bucket lists" he was told not to (we have it on tape), and essentially let the board off the hook from the hard work of considering ALL of them, plus some.
Mammutidae are extinct. The board has the power to resurrect the ones Dale buried. And we have the voices to make the board do it.
We also let the board know we were unhappy (to say the least) that principals and some school board members think it's perfectly OK to question children for hours -- and that one principal had surveillance cameras on his wish list!
Here is the email we sent to the board, with copies to the press and others, and links to the original letter expressing our reservations and specific areas for an overhaul, plus links to two of the 13 white papers we are completing. Tell us what you think in comments. Better yet, tell the school board, staff, and your principals!
Dear Members of the FCPS School Board:
The attached letter was supposed to be available to you prior to the meeting today but was not handed to you. Please make sure you read this, and the attached white papers. [Recording hearings; Students with Disabilities) They are germane to the discipline discussion.
While we applaud the direction the board is going, what we heard today would not go far or wide or deep enough to exorcize this system of a culture that continues to be ok with 69,430 documented violations (never to our knowledge "analyzed" as Dr. Dale suggested was being done) and the attendant widespread big-brother atmosphere that turns children into on-the-verge-hoodlums and teachers into guards.
We heard principals applaud coercive questioning and surveillance cameras. We heard board members worry so much about "the kids who follow the rules" that they seem ready to throw everyone else away. We heard Dr. Dale state that "best practices" mean polling his staff, and board members seem ready to rest on the notion that Fairfax isn't as awful as adjoining jurisdictions. We heard Dana Scanlan state that the hearings office has some number of exonerations when a FOIA request response to us that asked directly about this completely refutes her assertion and the hearings flowchart shows no place where this is possible. We heard a lot of spinning and backpedaling. This is unacceptable.
We absolutely applaud the board members who are behind the small measures like recording hearings that Dr. Dale put forth, who are behind full reform, and who argued for addressing the big picture and going much further than Dr. Dale's proposals. And who argued that the SR&R needs to be thrown out and a new, shorter, rights-focused, more just and accessible one, be created. We also support Kathy Smith's statement that the May meeting could lead to a more in-depth process. These are the most progressive and evolutionary courses to take.
There are proven practices that work in other states -- and we heard not one single person state that Dr. Dale and his staff should be directed to review the very best out there with organizations like the Advancement Project, the Rutherford Institute, the ACLU, the American Psychological Association, JustChildren, Legal Services of Northern Virginia, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Children's Defense Fund, ourselves, and many others who know how to do it better. We formally request that this board engage directly with these groups themselves, and direct Dr. Dale to do so as well.
In addition, this board has been interpreting state code in the most conservative way possible, which protects itself and FCPS staff more than any other group of people. There is nothing in the code that says this board -- and its phalanx of attorneys -- cannot interpret the code as liberally as possible to first protect all children from harm and then restore them whole. That includes children who make mistakes, violate rules, and must be considered innocent until proven guilty.
This board and staff are obliged to educate themselves, engage the public and experts like us, and begin conducting discipline -- for all 175,000 students, not just those few 630+ so many are focused on -- in ways that are just, fair, and work excellently.
Please be aware that we will not rest until full reform is accomplished. We have hundreds of families behind us, groups from around the state and nation watching, and more reaching out to us every day. The pipeline of grievances and concerns remains full-on.