Effect of Recent Changes to Fairfax County Schools Rights & Responsibilities Handbook
In the summer of 2019, the Fairfax County School Board approved changes to the procedures for students facing disciplinary action. The changes were added to the most recent 2019-20 Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, https://www.fcps.edu/index.php/srr, in an effort to standardize the school disciplinary process countywide. The new SR&R Handbook was distributed to all Fairfax County students at the start of the school year, requiring a parent signature to acknowledge receipt and understanding of the changes in the school disciplinary system.
Unfortunately, most students and parents fail to read the SR&R and have a limited understanding of the disciplinary process in Fairfax County until they receive a call from the school that their child has been subjected to a suspension notice and referred to the School Disciplinary Hearings Office.
For students and families facing school disciplinary action, the most important change in the 2019-20 SR&R involves parental notification by the school of a situation or incident before a student is questioned by the school staff and administrators or the student is asked to sign a statement. The newly implemented SR&R clarifies the age limit for written statements and updates parental notification guidelines.
These changes alter the way the school can investigate a situation by questioning a student prior to seeking permission of the parent or guardian. It is important for the family to seek an education advocate who is an attorney skilled and experienced in school disciplinary hearings to determine if this implemented change was followed by the school authorities. In cases where the new implemented policy was not followed, the lawyer may be able to request the exclusion of the statements to the School Hearings Officer, removal of the statements from the Disciplinary packet and the prohibition of the use of the statements during the Disciplinary Hearing.
Other changes relevant to the School Disciplinary process include:
1. Modification of the “disorderly conduct” violations to reflect “disruptive behavior” which focuses on school discipline verses that of criminal conduct;
2. Updated definitions of “discriminatory harassment” and “inappropriate behavior;”
3. New consequences for vaping offenses;
4. Adjusted length of in-school and out-of school suspensions
5. Adjusted length of temporary removal from student activities and school sponsored activities;
6. Updated consequences for first offense mariuana use, possession of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia;
7. Additional consequences for subsequent possession or use of marijuana
8. Clarified procedures involving violations by students with disabilities;
9. An overall effort to standardize and streamline the disciplinary process to address data which showed certain groups of students had been facing a disproportionate level of discipline.
New Fairfax County Superintendent Scott Brabrand appears to be focused on a shift to more county-wide fairness, rehabilitation and increased second chances. The overall goal of these changes seems to be to facilitate a swifter return of the student to school, in order to limit the academic impact of short-term suspension, transfers, long-term suspensions and appeals of expulsion recommendations to the school board. However, the manner in which the school disciplinary process is actually implemented will ultimately determine whether these aims are achieved.
It is important for parents to completely review the new SR&R with your students, to make sure they fully understand their rights as well as their responsibilities. It is also important to understand the limitations of the new changes, and to seek counsel as soon as you find out your studend is faced with the posibility of disciplinary action by the school board.
Contact Alene Sprano at the Sprano Law Firm to consult about your students possible school disciplinary action.