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Testimony by Caroline Hemenway: June 7, 2012: Parent Notification

November 14, 2012 by Therese Tuley

Fairfax County School Board – June 7, 2012 – Regular Meeting – SR&R

Caroline G. Hemenway

I am director of FairfaxZeroToleranceReform.org. This is a critical evening for every student and parent in Fairfax. Tonight you will reveal whether you support parents and kids and their rights and responsibilities, or are beholden to the misplaced fears of principals.

I expect, given that staff have taken citizen time to testify tonight, and that the views of administrators (not teachers!) were submitted in comments for the formal agenda, that you allow extra time for us.

Last year, when you ran for office, nearly every one of you made commitments to the community you represent that you would provide for parental notification before children are questioned when serious violations are suspected, and for parent consent before children are asked to write potentially self-incriminating statements. We are holding you to those promises.

FZTR supports Elizabeth Schultz’s amendments as being most aligned with community interests. We also support the amendments that give principals discretion to keep students in school during appeals. That reduce FCPS costs and give achievement a chance by allowing certain first-time marijuana users to attend diversion programs instead of going through an expulsion process. That, through a new board committee allows the community to participate in improving the entire discipline system to meet the highest standards.

To quote from the panicky comments submitted by administrative staff: “The requirement for parental notice will in all likelihood lead to the expectation on the part of parents that they have the right to stop school administrators from interviewing their students.” Darn right! These comments clearly come from a few principals who dread teenagers and consider them, as one has said, morally corrupt at base.

Their position statement, delivered to you today, is self-serving. Not one single comment addresses the possibility that problematic FCPS policies and practices and attitudes could be contributing to the burdens children face. Furthermore, principals do not speak for teachers, who do not share these fears and who support parent notification.

Parents are notified as soon as their children are injured or throwing up. Nobody sends kids home on the bus when they are suspended, so someone has to be called to get them. This is not a question of WHETHER or HOW to notify a parent. It is a question of WHEN. I cannot imagine a condition where a written statement or confession is essential to handling a dangerous situation. Too often, these statements are coerced and used against children as young as eight. This must stop.

Not one of these amendments makes schools less safe! They still allow questioning without parent notification in emergencies. Does someone have a gun or a knife? Is someone foaming at the mouth from an unknown drug? Has someone threatened immediate violence? By all means, question everyone right away! Did someone steal a cell phone? That is not an emergency. Principals can still question staff and other witnesses. Investigations can continue. Teacher roles are not affected. These measures bring parents in as allies and form a basis of trust.  We speak for the tens of thousands of children and stakeholders who remain silent but consistently depend on us advocacy groups to fight for them and their rights and school safety.

To refute what principals claim, our schools’ success has nothing to do with being able to interrogate students and keep parents in the dark. To hear principals tell it, you’d think the entire structure of FCPS success would topple if these reforms are passed – a very sorry statement about the great teaching and committed parents in this community.

The Fairfax County Council of PTAs supports a priori parent notification and prohibition of written statements without consent. Teachers support it. All the Democrats on this board were elected with Fairfax County Democratic Committee endorsement, which passed a resolution supporting this. In fact Ted Velkoff, Megan McLaughlin, Pat Hynes, and Tammy Derenak Kaufax were all on the committee that wrote and unanimously passed that resolution.

But this is a bi-partisan issue. This is about the fundamental role of discipline in our school system. Do you believe it is to investigate and punish above all? Or to create opportunities for corrective measures, give children a shot at learning from their mistakes, and provide for intervention and for collaboration with families?  This is about respecting parents’ role in their childrens’ education. And about being true to your word and to the people whom you represent.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

Exigent circumstances... Emergency conditions

 

Discipline........................ Teaching, learning (From Latin disciplina)

              .......................... Pupil (From from discipulus)

 

In loco parentis............... To take on some responsibilities of a parent

              .......................... To act in the best interest of a child

 

Notify ............................. (in FCPS Emergency Care Information Form)
“Every attempt will be made to contact a parent, guardian, or a designated emergency contact.”

 

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