Board Postpones Discipline Committee Creation
Fairfax County School Board to discuss issue further at Monday work session, will vote Sept. 20
Saying they felt they had not yet had a "full, robust" discussion on the makeup of a committee charged with reviewing the system's discipline policies, Fairfax County School Board members delayed a vote Thursday that would have established the 29-member group, pushing discussion to a Monday work session and a final vote to later this month.
Though the creation of the committee — the latest of several changes the board has made to its discipline policies during the past year-and-a-half — has been on the table since July, board chairman Ilryong Moon (At-large) said perhaps the board had "not paid [the committee] the close attention it needed to have," particularly with the "number of amendments just proposed in the last few days."
Along with Moon's amendment to delay the creation of the committee, charged with slimming and simplifying the document and ensuring the policies within the system's Students Rights and Responsibilities handbook are consistent with the board's vision, other proposed adjustments included:
- Increasing the committee membership by five to include the Coalition of the Silence, Fairfax County Council of PTAs, Fairfax County Partnership for Youth, Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform and the NAACP, each of whom will appoint one representative from their organizations. (Sandy Evans)
- Allowing the Fairfax Education Association to nominate one high school teacher representative, and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers to nominate the one middle school teacher representative. (Sandy Evans)
- Adding an elementary teacher representative, which would be nominated by the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators. (Sandy Evans)
- Allowing each school board member to nominate two representatives — instead of one — to the committee, raising the total number of committee members by 12. (Kathy Smith)
"I feel like it will seve us and the public and the community much better if we have a work session to discuss and then have a chance to reflect on it before we actually take a vote," said Moon, who voted to hold off on the vote along with Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee), Patty Reed (Providence), Megan McLaughlin (Braddock), Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon), Janie Strauss (Dranesville), Sandy Evans (Mason), Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) and Ted Velkoff (At-large).
Vice Chair Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill), Ryan McElveen (At-large) and Kathy Smith (Sully) opposed delaying the vote in favor of a discussion and decision Thursday night, with Smith calling the decision a "process issue" and Hynes suggesting a delay is the latest example of how the board "can be a little more disciplined about we do things," she said.
"I don't think it's going to be any easier on Monday, I don't think we're going to be any better informed on Monday, I don't see any value in putting it off until Monday," said Hynes, who said she felt prepared to move ahead with discussion of the proposed amendments. "I think the consequence of putting it off is we give a short shift to the other things we need to be talking about on Monday."
Schultz said the board needed to have a larger conversation about how the committee makeup — suggested by staff members — was constructed.
"The makeup was not formed by a majority or a minority of the board members up here," Schultz said. "As we sit here and contemplate a motion to vote on this this evening, I'm still not clear on how this committee architecture was formed."
McLaughlin said she didn't want to set a precedent in which the board didn't have a work session before embarking on an issue so important to the community.
Strauss said she was less concerned about the makeup of the committee — though she said expanding the number of community member representatives "may be a very worthwhile thing" — than getting the committee up and running.
"We need to resolve this and go on fairly quickly," she said, in order for the committee to give recommendations by March 2013, as expected by the board.
Several community groups raised concerns before and during Thursday night's meeting about the makeup of the committee, both about the balance between community members and students and who exactly those people are.
As it stood, the list was "not reflecting the diversity of the children who are caught in the discipline system," said former school board member Tina Hone, speaking for the Coalition of the Silence. "We need to make sure those communities are absolutely represented."
Others, like Michele Menapace, the communications director for discipline reform advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform, urged the board to select students and parents who had been through the process themselves, along with juvenile justice or counseling figures who may not be county residents but offer expertise the committee would otherwise lack, even if those representatives served as non-voting members, she said.
She also urged board members to consider eliminating magesterial district limits when selecting their appointees, or, having community members apply and selecting those who are the most qualified.
The board will take up the issue again at its Monday work session at the Gatehouse Administration Center. It will attempt another vote at its meeting Sept. 20.