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FCPS Candidates’ Qs & As: “How well does FCPS policy coincide with the FCDC position [on student discipline]?”

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The following are responses to the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC)’s questionnaire from the eight candidates for the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board’s vacant, at-large seat. I’ll post the responses in random order. The candidates are, in alphabetical order: George Becerra, Marianna Du Bosq, Carolyn HendlerShaista Keating, Stacia Keel, Karen Keys-Gamarra, Michele Menapace and Abrar Omeish. Here are their responses to question #5 (“FCDC adopted a position by which it ‘supports a fair and objective disciplinary process that assures rights of representation, recordation of all proceedings, and a hearing before an impartial decision maker. FCDC also supports parental/guardian notification and participation in all stages of student disciplinary proceedings. FCDC supports disciplinary decisions that are fair, impartial, without prejudice and take into account the total well being of the student, his/her rights and the community’s interest in safe schools.’ How well does FCPS policy coincide with the FCDC position and what steps, if any, are needed to ensure school discipline codes mirror the FCDC resolution? ”) of the eight-question FCDC Q & A. I’ll post the other Qs & As in separate posts. Note that FCDC will hold its meeting to endorse a candidate for this position on Friday, June 23rd, 7pm at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Karen Keys-Gamarra
FCPS made some necessary improvements to discipline policy and added common-sense supports to students under Karen Garza. Because of my experience as an Attorney who has worked to protect the best interests of children, I will bring an important perspective to the School Board’s oversight of discipline practices by FCPS. More specifically, the GMU study suggests that we still have work to do in this area. I believe it is the School Board’s responsibility to examine that study and take appropriate steps to reduce and eventually eliminate any form of disparate treatment.

Abrar Omeish
–Parent notification; must also be participation in any intervention whatsoever involving the SRO and/or involving the division superintendent, before the hearing process
More than half of the current listed FCPS in-school intervention involve punishment. Reassignment and suspension are to have additional criteria, with online resources for the student’s access. At the outset, FCPS disciplinary policy must move towards being one of rehabilitation
–Counseling intervention; training of a designated counselor or administrator as an
intervention specialist
–Rearranging course schedules to accommodate catered learning (e.g. night classes, online); the existing AIA is a start
–Check-in follow up meetings with expelled students; opportunity for return after six
months upon program recommendation and approval of School Board and Division
Superintendent
Preventative measures/programs:
–Special attention identification program: teachers/administrators can recommend students for a club, marketed to students as a positive/praiseworthy program, for increased counseling attention, life coaching, and mentorship
–Robust mental health resources: a hired professional (one per cluster or more), who is already one of the guidance counselors (keeping budgetary needs in mind), to provide counseling
–Following nonprofit best practices for prevention of school-to-prison pipeline problems

George Becerra
FCPS began this work in 2011/12 and has made significant progress toward policies that support restorative justice and parental notification, fair and just discipline, and changes in the juvenile justice system to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. George supports programs in our schools that address bullying and harassment by both students and staff. More work still needs to be done to revise these policies at a local and state level around certain types of required discipline. One possible solution is to apply different penalties for a variety of offenses such as drug use, abuse and trafficking. His work with on Police Practices Review Commission has expanded his knowledge and insight in this area.

Shaista Keating
FCPS has made strides in this area by adopting a comprehensive approach to discipline, including a “Positive Behavior” approach based on principles of Restorative Justice. Since its recent policy changes, discipline incidents are down overall by 27 percent, and down by 39 percent in our high schools. Suspensions have decreased by 25 percent.

FCPS’ focus on Restorative Justice must remain a cornerstone of its approach. Still, we must acknowledge that there is no “one size fits all” solution to this issue. It is easy to suggest that with a single policy we can balance school safety with the need to provide kids with second chances.

Currently, FCPS has approximately 100 peer mediation programs, at various stages of development. Many elementary schools teach conflict resolution skills as part of the guidance curriculum. This comprehensive approach must continue. In addition, our School Board must maintain diligent oversight as FCPS continues to improve its disciplinary process, and remain firmly committed to striking the right balance.

Marianna Du Bosq
The Fairfax County School Board has taken important steps towards overhauling previous versions of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Interventions and Disciplinary Procedures. However, its current policy is inconsistent with FCDC’s position on “parent/guardian notification and participation in all stages of student disciplinary proceedings.” As it stands, school personnel is not required to notify parents in the earlier stages of disciplinary interventions.

As a parent and a former educator, I know that the manner in which schools and educators communicate and interact with parents can have great impact on a child’s learning and general attitudes about school. Therefore, it is important that communication be maintained especially when working
through delicate issues such as disciplinary action.

It would be my recommendation as a board member that the Student Rights and Responsibilities Interventions and Disciplinary Procedures be reviewed by the board once again and revisit the debate on parent/guardian notification.

Michele Menapace

Stacia Keel

Carolyn Hendler
The recent changes were a positive step but they do not go far enough. Key changes include reinforcing positive conduct, reducing the number of offenses that carry mandatory consequences and decreasing suspensions. However, parental notification must be prompt and mandatory all situations. The current policy is that “reasonable efforts” shall be made to made to notify parents as soon as practicable and before asking the student to write or sign a statement only in the limited situations where the Principal is required to notify the Division Superintendent. I would advocate for two changes to the existing policy. One: prompt parental notification extending to all offenses requiring disciplinary procedures and two: replacing “reasonable efforts” with “shall promptly notify”. Student should not be in a position to write a statement in a moment of fear and intimidation. In terms of punishment, involuntary transfers should be limited to extremely narrow situations. These changes put the well-being of the student first and do not hinder the community’s right to safe schools and is more in line with the FCDC resolution.