Below is a letter we sent to several school board members today. Let folks know what YOU think.
We need to call your attention to the just-today updated FCPS website on discipline: http://www.fcps.edu/news/discipline.htm
FCPS has posted an offensive on "Disciplinary Actions." Please read this, and the link to "Hearings Office Process."
How can this system justify 69,430 documented violations? At a time when we are seeking to reduce disciplinary incongruities and address serious issues related to due process and over-reliance on suspensions (in-school or otherwise), why is FCPS launching an offensive action that demonstrates yet more forcefully that we have a system hell-bent on nailing kids?
Very significantly, in the flowchart that describes its very own hearings process, FCPS demonstrates there is no possibility of innocence or of remanding issues back to the school from the hearings office. In fact, of those 69,430 documented SR&R violations last year -- an extraordinary number -- the flowchart has zero possibility that any of them could be wrong. We already know that, of 5,025 cases heard over the last six years by the hearings office, zero were "overturned" (or whatever word is used for that finding).
We believe that FCPS is seeking to diminish the serious issues by attempting to demonstrate that "only" 636 cases went to hearings. Let us all remember: The hearings cases are just ONE of the issues. We also have unjustified involuntary transfers, disabled and minority kids disproportionately targeted, and thousands of kids on unproductive in-school suspension and on short-term out-of-school suspensions that are likely ineffective and probably harmful. And a continuing culture of distrust.
This posting on FCPS does nothing to gain credibility.
The above are our key messages to you, since we know you are pressed for time. But there is more to this that you should understand from our perspective, if you have time to read it.
The flowchart itself has no place for actually considering the merits of a case prior to "student commits a violation." But we know already that there is no unbiased or fair process for reviewing whether a kid is innocent or whether the facts are as accusing adults contend them to be. We know there is an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of disadvantaged kids who get suspended or recommended for expulsion. Does FCPS really believe it's system is just when 44% (306 cases) of the cases before the hearings office that result reassignment or suspension or expulsion are of special ed and 504 children? The in-school suspension numbers are just as bad.
Guilt is absolutely assumed through the process and through the actual numbers.
The terminology remains a huge issue. 119 expelled students "were permitted to continue receiving services through the terms of their expulsions." How is "expulsion" defined, then, because this is not a legal definition -- expulsion held in abeyance is not in any Virginia Code.
The discipline process flowchart also shows that kids can return to their base school after serving a 10-day suspension and going through a hearing -- but hearings usually take at least two weeks, if not longer, and two more weeks after that for a determination. This doesn't add up.
Finally, we have been asking for data that identify the relative seriousness of each violation, and have never been able to obtain it. These 69,430 numbers are as useless as sand when there is no means of assessing the scope of the problems to get at root causes and what's going on in the venues where these occur. And to identify appropriate solutions. And these numbers are telling when we learn that somebody -- a teacher or other paid employee -- is documenting each of these things at some cost and little understood benefit.
We need a system re-boot.
Thank you for your attention to this.
-- Caroline Hemenway, FZTR Director