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Committee: End zero tolerance in Fairfax Co. schools

Thursday - 3/21/2013, 4:48am  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Two years after the suicide of a Fairfax County high school student who faced stiff discipline, a special committee recommends significant changes to the county's "zero tolerance" approach to troubled students.

Efforts to reform the Fairfax County "zero tolerance" discipline program began seven years ago but picked up substantial support after the suicide of 15-year-old Woodson High student Nick Stuban.

Stuban was suspended and recommended for expulsion from school for a minor drug infraction, but his parents were never informed by the school district.

Caroline Hemenway, co-founder of Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform, served on the ad hoc committee that recommended changes Wednesday night to the school board. She says requiring parental notification when a student faces school discipline is a cornerstone of the changes.

"I would say that if all of these recommendations are implemented with integrity we can call it 'Fairfax Tolerance'," says Hemenway.

The recommendations include the following:

  • Providing a second chance program for first-time drug infractions, modeled after a program in neighboring Arlington County;
  • In-school academic support for those suspended from school;
  • More discretion for principals on when a student should be referred to a disciplinary hearing;
  • A disciplinary ombudsman who can guide parents through the process and a standing school board committee to oversee the position.

Hemenway says the committee also recommends a separate disciplinary code for students with disabilities.

"They make up only 14 percent of the student population, but 40 percent of the discipline infractions," says Hemenway.

The school board is expected to discuss the report again during a yearly review of the school system's discipline policy on April 8.

This story has been modified to clarify that Nick Stuban was never expelled from Woodson High School.

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