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Debate Over FCPS Discipline Policy Heats Up

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Two teen suicides in Fairfax -- one in January, and another in March of 2009 -- have become the focal points of a dispute about the county's discipline policy. Both teens had to switch schools following disciplinary action for violations of school policies.

The key question: Did Fairfax's discipline policy play any role in the tragedies? Jon Farrell, a Fairfax parent and member of Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform, says the families of the teens have the answer.

"Both sets of parents say the discipline process was a contributing factor," Farrell says.

Supervisor Catherine Hudgins has introduced a resolution urging the school district to review its zero-tolerance policy. She says her goal was never to place blame. Hudgins says she knows students come to schools with preexisting problems.

"But we are asked to work with them, and to work through those issues, and I just would not want to miss an opportunity to make it better," she says.

But Superintendent Jack Dale says Hudgins demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of district policy. He also says drawing a connection between the suicides and school discipline is just wrong.

"There's just zero connection between those two," Dale says. "We individualize discipline the same way you do at home with your own kids...two kids may have the same infraction, but you treat them differently because they're your own kids."

Furthermore, Dale says, state law requires that for certain serious infractions, students must be recommended for expulsion, or transferred to different schools out of their home districts.

Farrell's son was a friend of Josh Anderson, a South Lakes student who took his life before a discipline hearing in 2009. He says the school district needs to study what happens to students as they go through discipline hearings and afterward.

"Are they graduating, are they falling through cracks?" Farrell asks. "Why don't we want to know these numbers, Mr. Dale?"

This post was updated at 12:55 p.m.

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