Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our Reaction to Dale's 10 Recommendations to Reform the Current Disciplinary Process

First of all, we want to say shame on Superintendent Dale and the School Board for taking action only after a second young life tragically lost to suicide has galvanized enough parental outrage and demand for change, due in large part to the courageous advocacy of the Stuban family and the unrelenting media scrutiny from the Washington Post and local news stations.

The Zero Tolerance Reform advocacy group was in existence several years prior to Josh's death and had been calling attention, albeit on deaf ears, to this draconian and overly harsh punitive process.  Had reforms occurred at that time, perhaps our son would be alive.

We find it interesting that the 10 recommendations below are being touted by school officials as "the most sweeping changes in more than a dozen years."  As Tim says, if nothing has been done in many years, any change will be "sweeping".  We see this as county "spin" to make this look better than what it really is.
  1. Refining notification rules and helping parents prepare for the process
  2. Helping students and parents understand their rights and responsibilities
  3. Recording all disciplinary hearings
  4. Shortening the disciplinary process
  5. Providing instructional and intervention support for students in limbo
  6. Giving more power to principals
  7. Collecting data on existing and any new disciplinary processes
  8. Urging parents to fill out exit surveys after hearings and school board rulings
  9. Training and retraining staff on disciplinary guidelines
  10. Continuing the "Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support" programs across all schools
Do you have the same reaction as we do when reading this list?  Aren't these just "bare minimum" items?  Isn't the county exposing how little attention has been placed on the disciplinary process that affected over 600 students last year and largely responsible for the deaths of two?  A process that all 175,000 students are exposed to?

Let's be honest Superintendent Dale and School Board members, this list isn't about true reform - it is about establishing procedures that should've been in place from the start.  

For example, how can FCPS subject students to involuntary transfers, basically ripping them out of their community, and not collect data on the impact of this highly punitive action to the student?   We find this "unconscionable".

This is a start but there is a long way to go.   Here is our list that would signal true reform.

IMMEDIATE CHANGE that must be demanded by all FCPS parents:
  1. Parents MUST BE notified if their child has done anything to warrant suspension.  There should be NO questioning of the student by school administrators or SRO (School Resource Officers) and NO searching of student property until at least one parent is present. 
  2. Stop involuntary transfers immediately until the process has been reformed.  Heaven help the Superintendent and School Board if another FCPS student who has been involuntarily transferred attempts or succeeds in suicide. 
REFORM the process
  1. The initial hearing should be at the local schools.  Only if the student is deemed a threat to the school community by people who know the student, should it be "kicked" up the School Board Hearing Office. 
  2. Use the money saved by reducing the Hearing office (the cost is approximately $1.6 million) to provide training on the local level for these hearings. 
  3. First time juvenile offenders should be treated as such.  Distinctions must be made between dumb teen mistakes and hardened criminal activity.  It should not be that the law treats these kids with more compassion and understanding than the school system. 
  4. Consequences should match the offense with a goal of education and reform.  Kids should be able to make dumb teen mistakes and learn from them without wholesale change and disruption to their lives.  NOTE: We are not saying that kids who break rules shouldn't be punished.  They should be.  But not in a way that is overly harsh and punitive. 
  5. SRO presence in schools should be re-evaluated.  We have heard horror stories of "over zealous" SRO's that take any excuse to search students.  It is as though they are looking for someone to prosecute.  Has something that started out as a good thing, gone too far? 
  6. Involuntary transfers should be the absolute last resort, not the first. 
Our overall comment to the Superintendent and the School Board is this: Stop hiding behind the excuse of "we are following the Virginia State Code when we recommend first-time student offenders for expulsion."  It has been established that Virginia law not only allows school boards to use discretion for special circumstances but can determine what those circumstances are.  

Remember what it was like to be a teen.  If you were back in high school, did you engage in activity that would subject you to the disciplinary process?  And if so, how would you have fared?  

Use discretion; have compassion.

Or more famously said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. "


Amy336 said...

Hi, I am a friend of Rosa McGonigal and have read your blog. What an incredible and moving tribute to your son. I had a brother die at age 15 (car accident followed by year and a half in a coma) and your writing evokes many feelings from that time, especially thinking about what my mother went through!

Anyway I read about your son and the other boy who committed suicide in the wake of the Fairfield County drug policies, which are draconian and unfair and harsh beyond belief. I would compare it to bullying in the respect that several children have committed suicide as a result of bullying and while most children don't go to that extreme, the fact that anyone did is an overwhelming impetus to do everything possible to prevent bullying in schools so no one is driven to this terrible and irreversible decision again. This zero-tolerance nonsense is nothing more than administrative bullying and the fact that one tragedy such as your son's occurred should have made them stop in their tracks, suspend this policy, and try to construct something that doesn't hurt the students entrusted to them. I don't know how this superintendent can sleep at night unless he simply has no conscience.

I wish the best for you and your beautiful family! By the way, my mother still works in the area of head injury after spending every day of the year and a half by my brother's side while he was in a coma. I'm glad you're taking on this zero tolerance policy and bringing awareness to the dangers of it. But it always reminds me of Mark Klass, remember him? His daughter Polly Klaas was murdered in CA and he helped institute the Three Strikes You're Out law. He was at the bill signing with Bill Clinton and they asked him if he felt this gave some meaning to his daughter's death and he said it did, but that the price he had to pay was too high for him to feel good about it personally but that he was going to continue to fight for abducted children, and he has.

FZTR said...

I am so proud to know you and have you by our side as we shove this system into decency. We are getting national attention. But I fear that the only way we can make substantive change is to SHAME this system and its sycophants into an overhaul.

Our county's image as a business-friendly place is already tarnishing. I've heard some people say they wouldn't want their employees' kids subject to these policies if there are more humane ones elsewhere, such as MoCo.

We are on board with all the reform measures you listed in your blog -- they're all on our list!

Unfortunately, we have a steady stream of aggrieved families to make sure this issue stays front and center and irritating to blind board members and staff. We want this spigot turned OFF!

We must concentrate on electing a reformist school board in November.

Thank you so very much for your continuing inspiration and courage!

Caroline Hemenway, Director and Co-Founder,

Windwaker said...

Hey there, my name's Patrick Healey and I'm a reporter for the Marshall high school paper Rank & File.

I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I'll be probably be quoting some of this post in a piece on the evolving state of Zero Tolerance that'll run May 15th.

Additionally, as you probably know, the School Board is going to discuss the proposed changes to Zero Tolerance on the 16th in a work session. Because of this, there will be a follow-up story after that date, and I would be very interesting in receiving a comment from you on the finalized changes at that time.

I can't seem to find your e-mail floating around the blog, but you can reach me at

Thanks very much. ^^

Michael said...

It sad and disgraceful that our children learn about Innocent until Proven Guilty and Due Process as being cornerstones of this great country in the very schools that are operating outside of these principles.