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Fairfax County school leaders consider scaling back discipline policy

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Local,Virginia,Education,Rachel Baye,Fairfax County

A student in a Fairfax County public school caught for the first time with marijuana would not be automatically expelled, under a new disciplinary policy the school board is scheduled to consider Monday.

The current policy recommends expelling a student caught for the first time with marijuana or synthetic marijuana unless school leaders decide, after a hearing, that another punishment would be more appropriate.

The new policy for the fall, being recommended by schools staff, would give a first-time offender up to 10 days' suspension, including five days at an "Alcohol and Other Drug Intervention Seminar" and 30 days' suspension from extracurricular activities.

The recommendations are part of an answer to "whether or not we were in alignment with community values over the consequences for certain actions," explained Kim Dockery, assistant superintendent for special services.

Before a student is suspended for 10 days or more or expelled for repeat offenses, the new policy would require principals to "make reasonable efforts to notify the student's parents as soon as possible as part of the ongoing process, unless there is immediate danger to the student or others, or the possibility of the loss or destruction of physical evidence."

The changes are part of an annual review of the school system's disciplinary policy. However, these two aspects of the policy -- when parents should be notified and the appropriate punishment for a first-time offender -- are specifically being examined after coming under fire since 15-year-old Nick Stuban killed himself.

Nick, a football player at W.T. Woodson High School, committed suicide in January 2011, after being suspended for buying synthetic marijuana and then transferred to Fairfax High School. He wasn't the first. In 2009, 17-year-old Josh Anderson, a football player at South Lakes High School in Reston expelled for marijuana possession, committed suicide the night before a disciplinary hearing.

The recommendations that schools staff plan to present on Monday don't go as far in protecting students as those offered by a committee formed to study the issue, Dockery admitted.

For example, the committee recommended notifying parents earlier than school system staff think is advisable.

"When you start working and you have a situation, then you have to figure out what that situation is," Dockery said.

Parents ought to be notified immediately when a student faces disciplinary action to prevent a student from incriminating himself, said Tina Hone, a former Fairfax County school board member who started the group Coalition of the Silence to advocate on the issue.

Second chances also should not be reserved for students found with drugs, she said, but for any

student doing something wrong for the first time.

"It's important that we remember that schools are schools and not pipelines to prison," she said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner