At a March 15 Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Business and Community Advisory Council (BCAC) meeting, Assistant Superintendent Richard Moniuszko responded to concerns that FCPS has “lost control of the message” related to zero tolerance reform. Moniuszko discussed what FCPS can do “to get ahead of this public relations disaster,” by asking for help from the BCAC members with – we can only say “spinning” – the message.
Speaking on behalf of Superintendent Jack Dale, Moniusko said the system’s “story” about the great things its discipline process accomplishes is not being told. He stated that recent Washington Post stories have taken isolated incidents out of context and sensationalized them. (He then noted that FCPS no longer has the contacts that it once had at the Post.)
We know better, of course. We have dozens of recent “stories” to match the published ones.
The tenor of questions from business leaders, who should care deeply about children their employees send to schools in this county, implied that the greatest concern now is “getting in front of the press” and managing a “PR nightmare” – instead of authentically addressing documented serious problems that riddle the FCPS discipline process.
Moniuszko stated that suspension numbers have “declined significantly over the last few years;” our review of FCPS data shows FCPS staff cannot link this small decline to any specific cause. In any case, this fact does not excuse the untenable way FCPS treats children who misbehave, make mistakes (yes, sometimes serious ones that require commensurate interventions), or are innocent bystanders.
It may be that prevention measures are working, which would be good news and worthy of support. Or it could be that the reporting system is so muddled that principals can get away with gaming the numbers to make their schools look good. Or, as we truly prefer to believe, they know what happens to children sent to the hearings office at Gatehouse. We just don’t know.
At the meeting, Patricia Velkoff (SB Member Kathy Smith’s Sully District BCAC appointee), remarked that FCPS “is not getting the success stories out to the public” and the public needs to understand that “mandatory expulsions are state law.” Ted Velkoff, her husband and an at-large School Board candidate, said the public needs to know about the process. Oh, believe me, we do.
Why can’t all those “wonderful success stories” be told? Moniuszko’s response was the old saw: “Privacy laws prevent us.” This sure hasn’t prevented dozens of brave families from coming “out” about the abuses. No amount of hiding behind the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) can hide the fact that the emperor has no clothes.
No institution gets better by being congratulated for how wonderful it is. When an institution refuses to divulge statistics that help describe a phenomenon worthy of improvement, all we have left is anecdote. When those anecdotes are consistent and number in the scores, it's not personal ax grinding, or whining, it's a description of a serious problem.
We have been told FCPS is “better than others.” Our response is “We don’t care.” When something is “VERY Bad,” someone else being ”Very VERY Bad“ doesn’t turn “VERY Bad” into “Good!”
FCPS’s system is murky, obscure, and replete with abuses. It is time that the School Board reminds Dale just who works for WHOM, and that “We The People” are at the top of the org chart.
FCCPTA President Ramona Morrow noted that the next two BCAC meetings – April 12 and May 10 at 7:30 pm – will include the discipline policy on the agenda. Moniuszko misunderstood and thought she meant the agenda would include specifics about addressing the PR issue. (!)
The public needs to attend these meetings and set a few things straight.