Red Apple Mom

September 29, 2011

Students Busted in SAT Cheating Scandal

Check out this story from ABC News.

Six high school students in New York state – including one female – paid a male college student about $2K to take their SAT for them.

The students were caught when officials noticed big disparities between each student’s SAT score and their GPA. That point caught my eye. Before FAIRGRADE was passed in 2009, our FAIRGRADE analysis demonstrated that while FCPS students had some of the best SAT scores in the nation, their GPAs were not demonstrating the same achievement. That point helped us demonstrate the need for grading policy reform. Looks like SAT and GPA disparities tell lots of stories!

It’s sad these New York students resorted to cheating. They should have put their money towards SAT prep courses instead. According to this story, the students are facing criminal actions for their decision to cheat.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Students Busted in SAT Cheating Scandal, posted with vodpod
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September 18, 2011

About Those Proposed Surveillance Cameras in High School Cafeterias…

Say what you will about today’s teenagers, but I’m not buying into the premise that a couple of mass food fights in the last year justify surveillance cameras in all of our Fairfax County High Schools.  

Aren’t we jumping the gun here just a wee bit?

The cost alone – $8000 per school – seems awfully excessive for one.

More importantly, though, when did ALL of our teens become public enemy #1 requiring video surveillance?

We want these kids to act like adults.  Aren’t there better ways to encourage them to do so?

I appreciate that FCPS is soliciting input from the PTAs (as they darn well should).

However, before we go all “Big Brother” on our kids, why not engage the student councils for their opinions too?

Isn’t this a perfect “leadership” opportunity for Fairfax County’s teens?  Perhaps the student body presidents could come up with some solutions that engage their school administrators to prevent “flash mob” cafeteria incidents.

When I was a teen, we could leave our school campus for lunch.  It gave us some responsibility.  It made us feel grown up.   Can’t we find better school lunchroom policies that would encourage our teens to “act adult” rather than “act out?”

I don’t like the message these surveillance cameras send to kids.  Do our teens really need to live under a big “eye in the sky” in our public schools here in Fairfax County?  Seriously – this isn’t Detroit.   (I can say that because I grew up there! 🙂 )

Here’s another idea I’ll throw out for consideration – Let’s call it the “High School TSA Fast Pass Option.”

Your child agrees to submit to a tight initial screening at the beginning of the school year – grilled by administrators about their potential threat as a potential “food-fight” participant.  If the student is deemed a non-threat, they can get their “TSA Fast Pass” and eat in peace without surveillance. 

Here’s another option – cafeteria ankle shackles.   That has to be cheaper than video cameras!  If your kid wants to eat, they have to lock up first. If a food fight begins, all the perps can be easily identified since they will already be shackled in place.  The added benefit to shackles –  no expensive technology upgrades!

Sarcasm aside, we’ll see how this issue plays out in the next few months.  However you feel about the issue, register your opinions with your administrators, School Board members, and PTA/PTO leadership.

Kudos though to the parent advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform who first brought this issue to the attention of the press.  Check out their arguments in the press release they issued last week.  FZTR News Release-Video Surveillance

Related Articles:

Fairfax Principals Want Indoor School Cameras  (Washington Post, September 17, 2011)

School Security Cameras Proposal Draws Parent Glares In Fairfax County (Fairfax County Times, September 16, 2011)

Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform

July 18, 2011

Another Bad Headline for FCPS in the Washington Post – thanks Janie Strauss!

Fairfax County Public Schools can’t stem the bleeding on the discipline issue. 

Our school system made national headlines again in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Reporter Donna St. George outlines yet another story of an 8th grade FCPS student who was interrogated by police and school officials — without his parents present — after other students said they’d smoked pot with the boy.

You can read the full Washington Post story here:  Supreme Court Ruling, Rising Police Presence in Schools Spur Miranda Questions

Janie "I voted NO on parental notification" Strauss

What the story doesn’t mention is that our new FCPS School Board Chair – Janie Strauss – voted NO on parental notification.

Why does this matter?   She’s running for re-election.  She doesn’t have kids in our public schools and she’s out of touch with what today’s parents, teachers and taxpayers expect from our school system.  If Strauss and other School Board members had supported parental notification, this issue wouldn’t be making national news – AGAIN!

Hey business community – are you paying attention?  The #1 reason businesses cite for moving to Fairfax County is the reputation of our school system.  How long is that going to last with continued bad headlines?!  The solution is a new School Board.  It’s time for long-serving members like Janie Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and Kathy Smith to go.   FCPS’ reputation is at stake.  Start getting involved business leaders.  Support the candidates running against these incumbents.  You have a stake in this too!

UPDATE ON SCHOOL BOARD FOIA VIOLATIONS – FAIRFAX COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE FINDS FCPS GUILTY:

Also reported by The Washington Post (Saturday, July 16th), “Judge Leslie M. Alden found that the School Board and the administration of School Superintendent Jack D. Dale had violated FOIA provisions on open meetings or public disclosure, but she concluded that the violations were too minor to justify reversing the board’s decision.” (Refers to any decision to reverse the Clifton ES closure.)

June 26, 2011

My Letter to the Editor About Janie Strauss’ Vote Against Parents

Kudos to The Connection Newspapers who print constituent letters to the editor – including from yours truly.

OUT OF TOUCH

She’s on Facebook.  She tweets.  And yet, Janie Strauss is more out of touch than ever.

She recently voted NO against parental notification.  So now school authorities can

interrogate and pressure my child to sign a confession without having to call me first.

Parental notification is the one change to the disciplinary code that parents wanted most.

And Janie Strauss voted NO.  She voted with the Superintendent – again – and against

the wishes of parents.  In this day and age of social media, email and even the old-fashioned

telephone, a simple call informing me that my child may be in trouble is not too much to

ask of the public school system.  Voting for Janie Strauss again is too much to ask for. 

She’s out of touch and out of date.  We need a new generation of leadership to represent

parents, students and taxpayers.  That’s why I am supporting Louise Epstein in November.

It’s time for leadership that delivers real results.

Catherine Lorenze
Parent of three FCPS students, McLean

6 ❖ McLean Connection ❖ June 22-28, 2011

School Board Member Janie Strauss submitted her own letter to local papers the week before.   In her letter, she stated:   “Some parents are uncomfortable with an administrator questioning students without first notifying and seeking permission from a parent. But in order to protect the safety of all students, principals must be able to immediately investigate incidents of misbehavior.”

Try MOST parents are uncomfortable Janie.   The vote for parental notification was for NON-CRIMINAL offenses.  If school officials can manage to call me when my child is ill, they can call to let me know my child is being questioned about a food-fight or some other NON-CRIMINAL activity.  What risk to student safety is there if the allegation is NON-CRIMINAL?

Interestingly, just day’s after Strauss’ vote, the US Supreme Court ruled that children don’t necessarily lose their right to self-incrimination when they walk into school.

Read more:
In School and In Custody (The News Observer – Chapel Hill, NC – June 22, 2011)

June 10, 2011

Janie Strauss & Ilyrong Moon Point Fingers on Failure of Parental Notification

In a vote of 5 FOR and 7 AGAINST – parental notification FAILED to pass at Thursday night’s Fairfax County School Board meeting.

Blame Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  School Board member Janie Strauss did.

Janie "I voted NO on parental notification" Strauss

In an effort to give herself some air cover for her NO vote, Strauss cited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia saying, “Justice Scalia is careful to look at the words in the law.” 

That’s fine.  However, the School Board doesn’t pass laws.  It passes policies.  So, it’s interesting that a liberal Democrat like Janie Strauss would cite a conservative Supreme Court Justice as justification for her NO vote on a “policy.”

Strauss said she was “troubled” by the wording in the parental notification amendment and said she wouldn’t support it.  She said she didn’t like that the amendment said parents should be notified “prior to questioning.”

Of course, if Strauss was so troubled by the amendment’s language, she could have made a motion to offer alternative wording in the amendment.  But she didn’t.  Instead, she stood in solidarity with Superintendent Dale and his staff and voted NO – against the wishes of parents and students.

That’s right.  Janie Strauss –School Board member running for re-election in McLean, Great Falls and Herndon – voted against the parents she claims to represent.  She voted NO on parental notification.

Parents Rally for Discipline Reform

As a result, FCPS officials don’t have to call you before your child is questioned about a discipline violation or pressured to sign a confession.   In fact, you may not know your child has been interrogated until hours after the questioning has taken place and after your child may have already signed a confession – without any counsel from you.

But Strauss doesn’t want voters to blame her for failure of the parental notification amendment.  Oh no, no.  Point the finger at how Justice Scalia reads legal text instead.

Let’s be clear.  Janie Strauss should be held accountable for her NO vote on parental notification.  Election Day – November 8th is your chance to end her too-long career on the School Board.

At-Large member Ilyrong Moon should also share some of the blame for the amendment’s failure because he sponsored it.  You’d think he would have taken the time to be sure the issue was crystal clear for his colleagues to ensure passage of this critical amendment.  Unlike Strauss, Moon did not blame Justice Scalia – but he did blame FCPS staff.  Unbelievably, Moon had FCPS staff write the amendment for him.

Isn’t that a bit like letting the fox guard the hen house?

Debate on Parental Notification Amendment

Dale and FCPS staff absolutely do not want parental notification.  So why did Moon have FCPS staff craft the amendment when he should have done it himself.  Can’t he write his own amendments?  He’s a lawyer for Pete’s sake.  What a waste of an At-Large School Board position.  It’s just another reason why Moon doesn’t deserve re-election either.

We need School Board members who are going to seriously advocate for the parents and students they claim to represent.  Janie Strauss and Ilyrong Moon don’t.  Show them the exit door this November.

School Board members who voted NO on parental notification:

Janie Strauss – Dranesville District (*running for re-election)

Kathy Smith – Sully District (*running for re-election)

Liz Bradsher – Springfield District (not seeking re-election)

Jim Raney, At-Large (not seeking re-election)

Brad Center, Lee District (not seeking re-election)

Stu Gibson, Hunter Mill District (not seeking re-election)

Tessie Wilson, Braddock District (not seeking re-election)

Related Articles:

Fairfax County Public Board Docs – Action Taken By FCPS School Board (June 9, 2011)

FCPS School Board Proposed Amendments (June 9, 2011)

Fairfax Scales Back Discipline Policy (The Washington Post, June 10, 2011)

School Board Votes to Make Discipline Process More Flexible, Supportive (The Patch, June 10, 2011)

Parents & Community Rally Before School Board Decision (The Patch, June 9, 2011)

Disciplinary Policy Changes Coming to Fairfax County Schools (WUSA-Channel 9, June 9, 2011)

Fairfax School Board Takes Up Zero-Tolerance Policy Reform (WJLA-Channel 7, June 9, 2011)

June 7, 2011

Student Interrogations & Discipline Review: Your Child Needs You Thursday

As parents, we want to help our children – particularly when they are vulnerable and in need of guidance.

The discipline reform debate going on in Fairfax County Public Schools has revealed just how few rights our children have if they are ever accused of a serious school infraction.

This Thursday, June 9th, School Board members will vote on changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy – including the controversial parental notification component.

Picture school authorities interrogating your child – and pressuring him or her to sign a confession or statement of guilt – without you present in the room.

Don’t like that idea?  Then take some action.  Your chance is now.

These following School Board members are either undecided or opposed to notifying you before your child is questioned about a serious school infraction.

Jane Strauss -Dranesville District
Kathy Smith – Sully District
Liz Bradsher – Springfield District
Stu Gibson – Hunter Mill District
Tessie Wilson – Braddock District
Jim Raney – At Large

Email these members now and ask them to vote in support of parental notification.  The parent group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR)  is asking parents to specifically request the following points:

1.  Parental notification for infractions that could result in suspension of more than three days or a recommendation for expulsion.

2.  No  signed student statements of confession without a parent or guardian present.

3.  Advising students that they have the right to remain silent and they have the right to seek counsel.

We would all like to believe our children will never face serious disciplinary action in public school.  But the fact is, you can never really know.  Put yourself in the shoes of your child.  Ask yourself if you could handle an interrogation without an advocate by your side.

Does that idea trouble you?

Then show your kids you really care and participate in FZTR’s sponsored rally BEFORE Thursday night’s School Board meeting on June 9th at 6:30pm.  Location – Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church on Gallows Road at Route 50.  Meet in the parking lot.  Wear RED and bring appropriate signs that call for PARENTAL NOTIFICATION.

Many of the School Board members are running for re-election this year.  Your participation in this rally could help apply the pressure needed for these critical reforms.    Please get involved and advocate for your child now while you still can.

The School Board is expected to vote on discipline policy changes about 7:45pm.  If you cannot attend in person, the meeting will be televised on Cable Channel 21 and web-streamed live at http://www.fcps.edu.

For more information, visit the Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform website at:  www.FairfaxZeroToleranceReform.org.

Here are the email addresses for all the School Board members:
Kathy Smith – Chair – Kathy.L.Smith@fcps.edu
Brad Center – Vice Chair – Brad.Center@fcps.edu
Elizabeth Bradsher – Springfield – elizabeth.bradsher@fcps.edu
Sandra Evans  – Mason – sandy.evans@fcps.edu
Stuart Gibson – Hunter Mill – stuart.gibson@fcps.edu
Martina Hone – Member at large – Martina.Hone@fcps.edu
Ilryong Moon – Member at large – ilryong.moon@fcps.edu
James Raney – Member at large – james.raney@fcps.edu
Patricia Reed – Providence – patty.reed@fcps.edu
Daniel Storck – Mt Vernon – daniel.storck@fcps.edu
Jane Strauss – Dranesville – jane.strauss@fcps.edu
Judith Wilson – Braddock – Tessie.Wilson@fcps.edu

May 17, 2011

What if a teacher “got rid of drugs” for a student?

Monday’s School Board work session on discipline reform took a weird turn, I thought, when it was Janie Strauss’ turn to address her colleagues.

School Board Member Jane Strauss

First, she completely neglected to discuss the lack of parental notification in the Superintendent’s recommendations for discipline reform.  (This is important because one of the students who committed suicide after the FCPS discipline process was from her district.)

Then she  bizarrely asked FCPS staff, “In a situation where a kid brings a small amount of drugs, what is our requirement if drugs are found?  What if a teacher got rid of it?  What is the law?”

Yes, Strauss seriously asked what if a teacher “got rid of  drugs” for a student?

How weird it that?  What teacher would honestly risk their job and reputation by doing such a thing?

Strauss said she was asking the question because parents had posed the question to her and wondered if drug situations could be handled “privately.” Why Strauss focused on that issue rather than parental notification is just plain weird to me.

For the record, Dale informed Strauss that FCPS is required to report criminal activity.  So the answer is “NO.”  Drug possession on FCPS property is never handled as a “private” matter.

Kudos to School Board members Sandy Evans, Tina Hone and Patty Reed who asked all the tough questions of the day and advocated strongly for parental notification, new training of hearings officers and not treating first-time offenders like hardened criminals.

School Board Work Session on Discipline Reform

Some additional information points from Monday’s work session include:

  • Superintendent Dale stated that FCPS does not send discipline records to colleges.  He said many colleges and universities ask students if they have had discipline infractions, but FCPS “doesn’t send a thing to colleges.”
  • One of the big changes to the Student Responsibilities & Rights  (SRR) deals with Over –the-Counter (OTC) drugs.  If a student brings an OTC drug to school, like an aspirin or Motrin, the principal has full discretion to decide on a suspension or a reprimand if the OTC drug was innocently brought to school by mistake.  However, if a student is found to be distributing an OTC drug for the purpose of misuse, a principal could recommend expulsion.  FCPS staff explained that OTC cough medicines are sometimes abused by students and distributed to others.
  • FCPS staff stated if there was intent to misuse or distribute prescription drugs, principals will not handle that in-house and the case will be referred to the hearings office.  The factors involved come down to legal use as prescribed by a doctor versus illegal use (distribution to others of the prescription drug).
  • Statements provided by students during the discipline process are confidentially held by Fairfax County Public Schools unless subpoenaed by a court.  One FCPS staffer said in the seven years that she has worked in the FCPS hearing office, she is aware of only one student statement being subpoenaed.
  • FCPS has said they will let parents listen to an audio recording of their child’s discipline hearing, but won’t give them a copy of the recording.  They cited confidentiality concerns with other students’ names who might be mentioned during the hearing.  They also expressed concerns that the recording could be edited and taken out of context.  School Board Member Tina Hone took issue with FCPS staff on this point saying there is encryption software that could lock the recording and prevent it from being copied or edited.  She also stated there are options for blocking out student names.
  • Kindergarten students must now be met at the bus by a parent or guardian or a sibling who is in 7th grade or higher.  If they are not, the bus driver will return the student to the school.

May 16, 2011

Missing the Mark on School Discipline Reform?

I very much appreciate Fairfax County Public Schools’ attention to the discipline reform issue.  However, I join others in expressing serious concern that school officials are missing the mark on this issue– big time. 

On Friday, a FCPS press release said Superintendent Dale will present specific measures “to implement his 10 recommendations for changes” to the student discipline process at the School Board work session on May 16th.

Huh?  To “implement his 10 recommendations”?   Remember, this is a Superintendent who originally denied that FCPS has a “zero tolerance” policy.  Now he’s the one deciding the list of recommendations and we’ve leap-frogged to “implementation” already?

The FCPS press release says the school district “listened to input from the School Board, principals and members of the community.”   Really?  Which members of the community?  I never received an FCPS Keep-in-Touch message asking for input.  I never saw announcements from any of my schools asking for input.  The main parent advocacy group pushing for change – Fairfax for Zero Tolerance Reform – tells me they were never asked to consult about the Superintendent’s recommendations.

A more troubling component is the Superintendent’s recommendations are “back-end” heavy.  Dale’s proposals mainly  focus on AFTER a student has been accused and interrogated. 

As one parent advocate working closely on this issue told me, “Why is Dale NOT reforming the punishment practice itself?  THAT is the problem. THAT is what damages kids. THAT is what is unfair.  That is what is costing the community too much.  THAT is what parents want.”

It’s true there is no mention of a parental notification requirement in Dale’s 10 recommendations. If your child is accused of an infraction, he or she may be interrogated at length by school officials without you present.

Are you comfortable having your child interrogated alone?

When you were a kid, would you have been comfortable being questioned by authorities without your parents there?

FCPS is so averse to parental notification that their lobbyists helped kill a bill in Richmond that would have required schools to call you before your child could be questioned.

Fairfax County parents want to be notified.  They made that clear to the House of Delegates which is why a bill appeared in the first place.  They’ve also made it clear to the Board of Supervisors and to School Board members.

And still, this very critical component doesn’t appear on Dale’s list of 10 recommendations.

Another omission from Dale’s list – the involuntary transfers of students.  Based upon Title 22.1 of the Code of Virginia, Virginia schools have no legal right to involuntarily transfer students to another regular school program solely for discipline purposes.

Dale maintains that it is a “privilege” for students to attend their home-base school.  But school attendance is not a privilege.  It is a legal right.  And if a student does not pose a danger to others, why is FCPS spending hundreds of thousands of dollars transferring kids – and their problems – to another school?

Bottom line, Superintendent Dale’s recommendations need more “Front-End” proposals that deal with the punishment process itself.  It was the punishment process that led to the tragic suicides of two FCPS students.

The Superintendent still doesn’t get that.  Here’s hoping enough School Board members do get it and that real reform will hit the mark and  reflect informed community input.

Related Articles:

April 7, 2011

School Board Member Janie Strauss’ Sanctimonious Stretch

Check out Robert McCartney’s terrific column today in the Washington Post titled: Fairfax Schools Are Right to Relax Discipline Policies.”

Jane Strauss-Generation "Out of Touch"

Generation "Out of Touch" School Board Member Jane Strauss (1995-current)

In this article, School Board member Janie Strauss once again positions herself as the “generational expert” on all things academic – this time conjecturing that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have different attitudes about the Fairfax County Discipline Policy.

If this doesn’t qualify as a sanctimonious stretch, then we may have to rewrite the definition of sanctimonious.

People of all ages who know I’m a parent advocate continue to approach me wanting to discuss the ongoing news headlines about the discipline issue.  There is no generational “gap” in these exchanges – just a common reaction of disgust that it has taken two student deaths to waken the school system from their torpor.

The public’s desire for change has NOTHING to do with being a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer.

It has everything to do with the perception that students in Fairfax County Public Schools have fewer rights than prisoners at Guantanamo.

It’s about the reality that anyone’s child could become one of FCPS’ next “victims.”

It’s about School Board members like Jane Strauss who remain completely out of touch on what this issue is really about – fairness!

At Monday’s work session, School Board member Sandy Evans advocated that parents need to be brought into the discipline process sooner saying, “Students confess and sign written statements before parents are called.”

One of the participating principals replied, “Is that a bad thing?

Yes principal that is a bad thing.  Here in America, confessing and signing a written statement under coercion or pressure without representation is a problem for most people who want to see justice applied.

I come from a law and order family, so I’m not soft on the safe schools issue.

My father spent years as an undercover narcotics agent in Detroit.  He’s worked in schools, busted drug dealers and disrupted gangs.  He’s literally seen it all.  Now in retirement, he accompanies my mom who teaches art to “troubled youth” at an alternative high school in Knoxville, TN.

Even my tough guy dad says he finds FCPS’ discipline policies disturbing – particularly the lack of immediate parental notification.

So let’s end this silly and unproductive academic exercise about Baby Boomers versus Gen X, Y or Z right here and now.  This debate is about fairness to students and putting some checks and balances on overreaching disciplinary policies and power-hungry FCPS officials.

Oh, and look – here.  FCPS is advertising in the Washington Post to hire another hearing officer.  Starting salary is $64,826 for the US27 position.  I’m guessing interested parties with common sense and a heart need not apply.

Sidenote: Kudos to the Fairfax County Council of PTAs who passed a FCCPTA Parental Notification Resolution Monday night.  A Fairfax Education Coalition (FEC) member who attended the FCCPTA meeting reported that FCPS Assistant Superintendent Barbara Hunter, who is with the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, cast the ONLY NAY VOTE for this clause in the FCCPTA parental notification resolution: RESOLVED:  The FCCPTA Executive Board supports changes in the FCPS discipline process to prevent students from signing or executing any written statements except in the presence of a parent or guardian.

Related Articles & Materials:

March 27, 2011

Consequences of Sexting – Child Porn Charges

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

If you have a middle or high schooler, please read this frightening and very important article in today’s New York Times and share it with your child.  When it comes to the dangers and ramifications of “sexting,” anecdotal information is powerful prevention for both parents and students!

The story details the horrible outcome faced by a 14-year girl when she sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend.  Of course, the photo eventually went viral.  The story also details the consequences faced by the students who were caught distributing the photo via email – consequences which almost led to charges of child pornography dissemination.

Of particular interest in this article are the teen focus group comments discussing what today’s teens have to say about sexting.  Such comments include these gems:

Q:  Is sexting ever O.K.?

Saif, 18, Brooklyn:  It’s a way to express your feelings.  If a guy and a girl are in love, instead of saying it face to face, they can say it through technology.

Kathy, 17, Queens:  There’s a positive side to sexting.  You can’t get pregnant from it, and you can’t transmit S.T.D’s.  It’s a kind of safe sex.

The fact that teen sexting could lead to a stint in juvenile hall and ruin reputations escapes these teens’ logic.

The father of the girl who sent the photo of herself states in the article, “I learned a big lesson about my lack of involvement in her use of the phone and texting.  I trusted her too much.”

Trust or not, kids do really dumb things – especially when their heart and hormones overrule their brain.  Many teens live for the moment and don’t understand the long-term ramifications of some of their actions.

Do your family a huge favor.  Share this article.  Most importantly, discuss it with your kids – today.

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