Fairfax County considers itself among the most progressive educational jurisdictions in the country – even the world. But its discipline policies are derided by child experts, lawyers, and parents around the country.
Fairfax County’s Student Responsibilities and Rights document has grown from a six-pager in 1995 to a 40+-page treatise littered with innumerable Code of Virginia citations. Student “rights” barely exist, and “responsibilities” go far beyond anything required of ordinary American citizens and standard jurisprudence. Parents are supposed to review, understand, and discuss this with their kids. Most don’t. Many can’t. Those who read it through are often shocked. Those who aren’t shocked have never had a kid caught in the stocks.
More important, the policies and procedures written down by Fairfax County have no connection to the way these policies are actually carried out, child by child. Horror stories about what actually happens are legion.
The school system’s very first “belief statement” is violated over and over: “Each child is important and entitled to the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential.” See FCPS’s beliefs, mission, and vision statements here: http://www.fcps.edu/schlbd/sg/bmv.htm#.
According to the Virginia School Report Card (http://www.doe.virginia.gov/VDOE/src/) issued March 31, 2009, our county is failing to graduate 22.1% of our Hispanic students, worse than the state average. Nearly a third of our limited English proficiency students drop out. We have a 5.6% overall dropout rate. Yet in the 2009 Washington Area Boards of Education report, (http://www.fcps.edu/fs/budget/wabe/2009.pdf) FCPS states that the dropout rate is merely 1.67%. Whose numbers do YOU trust?
According to the 2008 FCPS Youth Survey, 56% of our students have used alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs – fully 72% of our seniors had done so by the time they graduated. One third of our youth report signs of clinical depression, 15% have seriously considered suicide, and 3.5% report actually attempting suicide. There were 11 teen suicides here just during 2008 by hanging alone. That doesn’t count the other more common methods. Many factors contribute to these depression and suicide rates. How does our unjust disciplinary process contribute?
The facts related to kids who are allegedly involved with drugs, altercations, bullying, violence, weapons and other such activities demonstrate that there is a deeper problem.
Data show there is no doubt that dozens, if not hundreds, of children a year from ALL walks of life are innocent or punished out of proportion to their "crime." Those who get disciplined are disproportionately minorities or poor. These numbers demonstrate that, whatever we believe about the morality of these activities, they are happening, and we cannot hypocritically treat those who happen to get caught like criminals, deny them individual rights, and continue ignoring the causes and reasons for these situations.
There is an chasm between the facts on the ground and the way this county deals with them. FCPS consistently treats children as “guilty until proven innocent.”
Costs to Society Enormous
The costs to society of a discipline process that is inhumane, and of suspending kids, kicking them out of school, or allowing them to drop out, is enormous.
Kids who are suspended end up unsupervised and on the streets, or taking up what few community resources there are to keep them occupied. The county spends more than $1 million transferring students to schools where they’ve been “administratively placed” with no evidence this helps anyone. Kids who don’t graduate make less money and pay fewer taxes over their lifetimes. The majority of incarcerated men are high school dropouts or expulsions.
Then there are the personal human costs. Apart from the individual psychological harm our discipline process does to kids, entire families and communities are profoundly affected. When a child becomes enmeshed in this county’s discipline system, parents lose wages advocating for their kids, and kids and their families end up entering the healthcare system in ways that often are not beneficial to them, schools, or society. And this goes only for those parents who can even comprehend what’s happened and get involved. The vast majority don’t know where to turn or what to do.
In light of an enormous amount of research demonstrating that zero tolerance policies don’t work, that children are denied due process, and that too many kids suffer unnecessarily, school systems are finally reviewing their discipline procedures and policies. We must be among them.
Mission:Transform the Fairfax County Public School
discipline system from a criminal and punitive approach to a restorative,
educational, and therapeutic process by working with families, FCPS,
county staff, civil rights and child development specialists, and legal