Red Apple Mom

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

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September 1, 2011

Honors Curriculum Delivered “Max Headroom” Style?

FACTS:

  • Over 1000 people have signed FAIRGRADE’s iPetition calling on FCPS to bring back upper-level, high school Honors courses.
  • FAIRGRADE and the Restore Honors group have advocated for this issue since February 2011.
  • The School Board held a work session on this issue AND DIRECTED the superintendent and his staff to bring them more information so that THE SCHOOL BOARD could make some informed decisions.

Any reasonable parent, teacher and taxpayer would think the process would play out with our elected officials – School Board members – engaging the public and teachers right?

WRONG.

Last Friday, Superintendent Dale informed the School Board that HE was making the decision to put two courses on-line and call them HONORS even though these classes will utilize the AP curriculum.  Good solution?   No.  Here’s why:

1.  Dale’s solution is not an HONORS solution.  The HONORS curriculum already exists so why not put THAT online? HONORS courses are appropriate, high school level courses.  Instead, Dale is putting up college-level AP course material but not requiring participating students to take the AP exam.  Since the student won’t be required to take the AP exam, how will there be any measurement that they mastered the material? Furthermore, parents and students want the high school HONORS curriculum- not “AP-Lite.”  Students already have the more demanding AP option and have expressed the desire to combine AP with less rigorous but still demanding HONORS courses.

2. Dale’s solution to parents’ calls for more rigor in curriculum choices puts students in front of a computer screen without a teacher who could provide the critical student feedback and engagement required of an upper-level course.  According to the proposal, students will meet “virtually” with their teacher one night per week.  How is this “Max Headroom” delivery going to work and are teachers really okay with that?!

3.  Once again, our unelected Superintendent is making curriculum and policy decisions WITHOUT proper oversight and approval from our ELECTED School Board members.  Why do we even have a school board then?!

4.  Principals, to FAIRGRADE’s knowledge, have been given no implementation plan for this proposal.  At least one principal has told FAIRGRADE he was very surprised to have this sprung on him only a week before school officially begins. This principal was emailing other principal colleagues for their input about handling potential teacher reassignments.  How’s that for poor FCPS planning?!

Here is the real story on Dale’s solution.  In part, it’s all political.  School Board Chair Janie Strauss can now run around and tell parents, “Look we listened.  We’re offering the courses on-line.  And in the process we’re going high-tech for students.”  In doing so, she’s hoping the HONORS issue won’t be a drag on her re-election campaign.  She’ll tell parents the problem is now solved – except the issue is not solved, and I bet she won’t tell parents any of the drawbacks I just outlined above.

Dale’s solution is also a set-up for failure of upper-level, HONORS courses.  It is poorly designed and contains no implementation plan.  Students don’t even know this option exists yet because principals just found out about it themselves.  And if students don’t know about it, then they won’t take the classes.  And that’s when FCPS will deliver the final HONORS death blow by announcing that there is no longer student interest in upper-levels, HONORS courses.   Mission accomplished on FCPS’ part with ZERO benefit to our students.

It would be nice to know if other school districts are going online with these courses and if there are any published success rates.  How many FCPS parents want their child to be a guinea pig in FCPS’ expansion into the new “online frontier” without any data to examine first?  I don’t.

Unfortunately, there are no answers to these questions because our unelected superintendent and his staff have bypassed the School Board and did not get approval for this serious curriculum alteration. Parents upset with Dale’s solution ought to personally hold Jane Strauss accountable for permitting this to happen on her watch as School Board chair!  Her lack of leadership on this issue is astounding!

Final points to consider – these two proposed online courses are NOT honors material.  That much is clear.  Kudos that FCPS wants to go online but we should have a community-wide discussion about all aspects of this education delivery vehicle first.    If the goal is to go online, why not begin with foreign languages first?  Programs like Rosetta Stone can provide student feedback without a teacher.   Can FCPS say the same about advanced courses?  Without an engaged School Board to ask these questions, we don’t know.

Related News Articles:

Fairfax County Schools to Offer Honors Courses Online  (Washington Post – 9.1.11)

Online Honors Class Offerings Spark New Debate (Fairfax County Times – 9.2.11)

July 20, 2011

Fairfax County School Board’s Discussion on Honors Courses

School Board Work Session

Someone wasn’t prepared for class Monday!

Monday’s School Board work session (7.18.11) on the Honors issue ran for two hours. It could have been more productive if Peter Noonan, the Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services, had come prepared for the same discussion many School Board members – and members of the public –  thought they came for.

Some attendees thought the discussion would focus on curriculum choices that best serve all FCPS students.  Noonan’s presentation instead focused on why FCPS believes a two-tiered curriculum best serves underrepresented minority students.

Patty Reed

When Noonan finished his presentation, Patty Reed -who represents the Providence District – stated, “I’m very troubled…this is not an objective analysis.  I would throw out this presentation and start over…present the pros and cons of a three-tier curriculum and see how many other school systems offer three tiers.” 

Dr. Dale stated, “You raised a different question than what we came for.  That wasn’t today’s presentation.”

Reed replied,“This is what makes me most upset.  That is a decision that should be made by this Board.  We never had that discussion (to remove Honors courses from the curriculum).” 

Dan Storck of the Mount Vernon District told Noonan that he did not understand FCPS’ assertion that the curriculum for standard level, Honors and AP courses is essentially the same.  Noonan later stated, “So why have a middle choice (Honors) when the classes are the same?”

The problem is that all students are not the same.  Some students are not ready or prepared to take multiple, college level AP courses.  Although the curriculum for the three tiers may be similar, the classroom expectations between standard level, Honors and AP courses are vastly different.   Why not have a middle option to serve all levels of learners who want a rigorous, yet balanced course load?

FCPS’ excuse was to cite College Board marketing materials which claim that students who score a 1-2 on the AP exams are better prepared for college. (College Board is the organization that prepares and sells the AP curriculum to thousands of high schools across the country.) 

At-Large School Board Member Tina Hone didn’t buy the argument.

She asked, “Is it better for a kid to take the AP class and fail the exam or take the Honors class and pass?”

FCPS’ curriculum expert Noonan said, “The AP class.”

Hone quickly pulled out a Harvard study demonstrating that students who passed Honors courses did better in college than kids who got a failing 1-2 grade on the AP test.

Hone stated, “This (study) runs a bit counter to what you guys are saying.   It’s saying the Honors kids are doing well.  This is the kind of data we need to make decisions on.” 

She’s right.

FCPS would like the focus of this debate to stay on underrepresented minorities and closing the achievement gap.  But here is the reality:  Limited curriculum choices are not helping our students overall.

While there has been a small increase in the number of FCPS minority students who are taking AP courses, it is clear that a much greater number of FCPS students are now relegated to Standard Level (gen ed) courses because FCPS has removed the Honors option and these students can’t afford the stress that comes with a full plate of AP courses.

Bottom line – Honors courses provide rigor for all student groups – no matter what their ethnicity or socio-economic background.  The learning potential of the overall student body should not be sacrificed so that FCPS can artificially close the achievement gap.

FCPS should focus on what’s best for ALL students.  Bring back the upper-level, high-school Honors courses FCPS and continue encouragement of minority participation in both AP and Honors courses.  That would truly be a win-win for all FCPS students!

May 12, 2011

That “In the Dark” Feeling

Fairfax County Public Schools ought to take serious notice.  When you tick off the Mount Vernon district, you must have hit a deep nerve.  I used to live at that end of the river.  The folks who live there are among the kindest and most pragmatic people you’ll find in Fairfax County.

So public school officials ought to get realistic about the level of displeasure brewing there over FCPS’ all consuming focus on closing the achievement gap.

Superintendent Dale and School Board Member Dan Stork told a 90+ person crowd last week that FCPS spends an extra $100 million on staffing at schools with poor and non-english speaking children.  The extra staffing permits teams of teachers to focus on a single child.

That message didn’t fly well with parents who still don’t have full-day kindergarten, whose kids are in supersized classes and who want high school English & Social Studies honors courses.  Superintendent Dale’s comments simply reinforced the perception that their kids aren’t a priority with FCPS’ leadership.

One parent stated, “We are all volunteering every day and every night, and killing ourselves for our kids. To say you have a laser focus on kids that need help….that means that everybody else is in the dark.”  

Do you feel like this parent?  Do you feel that your child is “left in the dark?”  It’s an interesting question for School Board candidates heading into the 2011 November elections to ask potential voters.

I suspect parents overall are very satisfied with their individual principals and teachers.  The School Board and Superintendent Dale’s leadership is probably another matter. FCPS’ pursuit to close the achievement gap is admirable and has widespread community support.  However, the School Board and Dale’s failure to recognize the undercurrent of dissatisfaction over the perceived and real lack of equity in resources may cost incumbent School Board members their jobs this November.

Interestingly, for all the proposals put forth in this year’s advertised budget – including funding for employee compensation and full-day kindergarten, there is one glaring omission –reducing class size.   Not a single School Board member has proposed any amendments to reduce class size in the FY2012 budget.

I know my kids are “in the dark” on that one.  And I do place the blame squarely at the feet of my incumbent School Board members Janie Strauss (Dranesville District) and Ilyrong Moon (At-Large) who both represent my schools and are running for re-election.

Strauss is in her second decade of service on the School Board.  Moon has served since 1995.  They both voted for the budget that increased class size in FY 2010.  They both have done ZIPPO to correct class size this year.  At the very least, they could have proposed relief for elementary classes with more than 30 children.   Instead, they have demonstrated zero leadership on this issue.

For those of you also feeling “in the dark” on the class size issue ask yourself:  “Do Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and other long-time incumbents like Dan Stork and Kathy Smith deserve re-election?  Do I want new leadership who will tackle supersized classes for me, my child and their overworked teacher?”

I know how I’m voting!

Related Articles:

Mount Vernon Parents Question Dale and Storck on Honors, Class Size (Patch.com)

Letter:  Fewer Class Options Means Students Are Not Served (Patch.com)

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

March 16, 2011

Funding Signposts on Teacher Raises & FDK

Good news and bad news for FDK advocates – the Board of Supervisors (BOS) all want FDK, but it seems they don’t want to pay for it.  Based on BOS Chairman Sharon Bulova’s comments at Tuesday’s joint budget meeting with the FCPS School Board, it doesn’t appear that funding from the county for teacher raises will happen either.

Full-Day Kindergarten

There was no mention of Supervisor Gerry Hyland’s proposed amendment to fund Full Day Kindergarten from the Board of Supervisors purported $30 million in surplus funds resulting from unexpected increases in corporate taxes.

Hyland may not have mentioned it because we learned at this meeting that the county does not really have a surplus.  They are, according to the county executive, $26 million in the hole.  Full Day Kindergarten costs $7.3 million.

Supervisors questioned FCPS officials about how big a priority FDK was for the school system.  Dr. Dale told Supervisors he was looking at a three-year implementation for FDK at a cost of $2+ million per year.  That didn’t sit well with Supervisors John Foust or Cathy Hudgins.

Joint Meeting - Board of Supervisors, Superintendent Dale & FCPS School Board

“It is a basic service.  Folks have been expecting it for long time.  It is a matter of equity.  You shouldn’t be looking at three years (to implement FDK),” said Foust.  He added, “In a $2.2 billion budget you shouldn’t be trying to find 2 million – you have to find it all.  Something else might have to give.”

Cathy Hudgins said of FDK, “It’s the foundation of the system and not ‘when we get to it.’”

FCPS repeatedly states that the economic downturn is to blame for not completing the FDK roll-out that began in earnest in 2006.  However, in spite of the recession’s onset, the School Board did, in fact, vote to expand the FLES program (foreign language in the elementary schools).

I’m a dual language speaker and support foreign language instruction.   But if FDK has always been FCPS’ priority, why were they expanding programs that serve only 10% of the student population rather than implement FDK in more schools?  I’m posing the question because several members of the public posed that exact question to FCPS when they voted to expand FLES a few years ago.  Everyone seems to be giving FCPS a pass that the recession is solely to blame for not fully implementing FDK.  It’s not and that is a fact.  They had options.

FDK advocates (and I’m one of them) will have to really turn up the heat on FCPS to make FDK happen this year.  Even then, it may still prove to be an internal budget battle on FCPS’s turf.  At-Large School Board member Tina Hone told Supervisors, “I will be asking to restore summer school before funding the full roll-out of FDK.”

Employee Compensation:

Board of Supervisor Chairman Sharon Bulova didn’t dance around on FCPS’ request for an additional $48 million for employee compensation increases, stating, “There is a major disconnect between our two budgets.”

Bulova has equity concerns for county employees like police, firemen and librarians..  She said, “Is it right for an employee to get an increase on one side of the house when we can’t on the other side of the house?  We aren’t out of the woods yet (on the recession).”

How is the superintendent going to handle this one?    Before parents resurrected the FDK issue, the number one priority for the School Board was staff and teacher raises.  I know for a fact that teacher morale is already low.  I speak to a lot of teachers in my advocacy work and I know their increased workloads are really tough.  The student body brings so many challenges from special ed to non-english speaking and poor students.  In addition, teachers today are faced with an endless flow of assessment and testing requirements.  Our school system is great because of our quality teacher workforce. We have a great curriculum too but without great teachers, the curriculum alone can’t maintain FCPS’ fine reputation.

So here comes the reality check.  The supervisors acknowledged their appreciation of all school employees, but I didn’t hear anything in this meeting to indicate the school system should expect more.  FCPS already receives 53 cents of every county tax dollar as part of the $2.2 Billion FCPS budget.

That means it will be up to taxpayers, parents and teachers to hold FCPS’ feet to the fire in upholding the School Board’s promises on FDK and teacher compensation.

Teachers Rally for Compensation Issues on Tuesday

As Supervisor Foust told Dr. Dale, “Something else may have to give.”  What “gives” still remains to be seen, however, since Dr. Dale has provided no indication to date of how he would pay for FDK and/or employee raises.

Looks for things to heat up soon.  Lots of promises have been made.  It’s also an election year and a number of School Board members have serious campaign challengers.

RELATED ARTICLES

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

March 14, 2011

The “Fear Factor” in FCPS School Discipline

The Fairfax County School Board tackled the Zero Tolerance issue Monday in a work session designed to help members flush out priorities for reform on the school system’s disciplinary policies.

The school system has been under increasing scrutiny that current disciplinary policies are overly punitive.  Media profiles on the recent suicide of high school student Nick Stuban, and another about a middle school student expelled for having an acne medication in her locker, have heightened the public’s calls for reform.

The audience included a plethora of FCPS staff, concerned citizens, dozens of members from the advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform and members from Nick Stuban’s family.  Because the room was filled to capacity, several people had to listen from the hallway under the watchful eye of a FCPS security guard.

Work Session Audience

Monday’s discussion was at times tense and emotional.  School Board member Patty Reed made a poignant admission that she is “haunted” by a few of the disciplinary decisions made by the School Board.  “The world is not black and white,” she said.  “I think we made lifetime decisions for kids who made their first mistake.”

Consistency was a frequently used word in the work session.  Board member Tessie Wilson argued that school board members can’t argue for both consistency and special circumstances when it comes to the application of discipline policies.  “You can’t be consistent if each case is judged individually,” Wilson said.

The FCPS disciplinary hearings process has been criticized as unduly harsh.  Students typically do not have parental representation and hearings officers have been judged by many students and families as overly adversarial.  Board member Stu Gibson said officials need to address balance but added, “If we have students committing serious violations of the rules and they won’t admit it, it is up to us and the administration to get to the bottom of what happened – and that is not always pretty.”

At-Large member Tina Hone said she believes there is still a sense of denial among FCPS officials about the hearings process.  “Dr. Dale you have said our hearings are not adversarial – and that is implausible. There is stuff that happens.  I appreciate your honesty Stu (Gibson) – because you are right – they do get adversarial,” Hone said.

Tina Hone & Patty Reed (photo left to right)

Hone also said the core issue is a flawed hearings process that is particularly disastrous for kids who have no previous record, “I believe, that in the hearing office’s point of view, they believe they are showing mercy when they are reassigning a student (to another school).  They think that is mercy.  The community is hearing the kid made one mistake and asking why are they even expelled.  We need to figure out if we can get the hearings office out of that habit.”

The School Board brainstormed a list of their priorities that will be discussed at additional work sessions in April and May.  (These priorities are listed below.)

Superintendent Dale told me that his challenge is to get the School Board to narrow down the priorities discussed today and gain a consensus on the top 3 to 5 issues.   I replied it is key that the School Board’s priorities mesh with the community’s priorities.

Based on all the press coverage of this issue, it seems the community’s immediate priorities are quite clear:  reform the process for first time offenders and introduce parental notification requirements.  The fear permeating through our public schools right now is, “Could my kid be next?  Could my kid be accused of a first-time infraction and kicked out of school for something like bringing an aspirin to school?”

Tackle the fear first school board.  The rest of the discussion will fall into the place. You have to remove the fear first because, sadly, the fear is all too real for FCPS families.

These are among the priorities discussed today by the School Board- NOT IN ORDER OF RANK:

  1. Clarify state mandates about discipline
  2. Address the treatment of first time offenders
  3. Obtain a better collection of data on the zero tolerance issue
  4. Ensure the discipline consequence is commensurate with the infraction
  5. Parent notification when a student is accused of a violation
  6. Maintain a safe and secure environment for all students
  7. Hearings process timeline – make it as short as possible
  8. Consequences of student behavior

Dr. Dale, staff & School Board Review List of Priorities & Discussion Points

Related Articles

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

February 11, 2011

Sparks Fly Between Superintendent Jack Dale & the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

Sparks flew today between Superintendent Jack Dale and his main benefactor – the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) over the issue of Fairfax County Public Schools’ Zero Tolerance Policy.

Earlier this week, the BOS took the unusual action of unanimously passing a resolution directly aimed at FCPS’ disciplinary process.  The BOS resolution, titled “FCPS Zero Tolerance Policy,” directs county agencies to share resources and expertise in family services to assist troubled FCPS youth.  The resolution also invites all FCPS stakeholders to report back to the BOS with “options and alternatives to the current policy” –  the Zero Tolerance Policy.

Encouraging community engagement and a partnership between our schools, the BOS and the public sounds like a great idea.  It’s not sitting well with Superintendent Dale though.  In a bold statement to the BOS today, he chastised the Board’s use of the words “Zero Tolerance Policy” saying it “perpetuates the falsehood that FCPS has a zero tolerance policy.”

Dr. Dale seems a day late and a dollar short on that call.  Perception is reality and the BOS and the public has long known FCPS’ policy by the name  “Zero Tolerance.”  In fact one of the co-founding members of the Fairfax Education Coalition (of which I am a member) is the group “Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform.”    If this term was “incorrect,” the word police in FCPS’ $2 million communications department could have and should have corrected the public’s perception on that one a long time ago.

Dale’s letter concludes saying, “I strongly recommend that all members of the Board of Supervisors learn more about FCPS’ practices and policies before making public statements that are misinformed…” Ouch!   Is FCPS so used to talking down to taxpaying parents and teachers that they don’t mind doing it to their “elders” – the Board of Supervisors too?!

It’s surprising that Dr. Dale chose to chastise the BOS in public and not behind closed doors.  Just last week, he and the School Board requested an extra $48 million budget transfer on top of the $1.7 billion the BOS already gives our schools.  I wonder how generous they’ll feel now that their petulant son, Dr. Dale, has called them “misinformed.”

I suspect what’s really going on here is the beginning of a turf war.  As an unelected official, Dr. Dale controls 53% of all county revenues.  He’s appointed by the School Board and they basically do whatever they want without any oversight from the BOS – until now.  The BOS is dipping their toes into FCPS territory and that has to make the Superintendent uneasy.   After all, today’s partnership with the BOS on disciplinary review could become tomorrow’s independent audit of how FCPS really spends their $2.2-$2.5 BILLION budget.

Yes, I suspect this very public letter Dr. Dale sent actually has very little to do with FCPS’ Zero Tolerance Policy.  Oops –   we’re not supposed to call it that.  So let’s just say that “policy we can’t call Zero Tolerance” needs reform.  Since the public funds the county budget and our schools, this partnership makes terrific sense.  So kudos to the Board of Supervisors for proposing a solution that includes the public and values their input.  It would be a welcome turn of events  if the Superintendent felt that way too.

Related Articles & Materials

January 23, 2011

Zero Tolerance for Jeff Spicolli & Ferris Beuller?

Cover of "Ultimate Party Collection Full ...

Cover via Amazon

February 20, 2011:  I have updated this blog entry to include an article from the Washington Post that provides details about the situation that may have led to this young man’s tragic suicide.  The link to today’s article is at the bottom of this blog post.

The Washington Post ran a very sad story today about a high school student suicide – with many in the community asking if their school district’s “Zero Tolerance” policy for even non-criminal offenses is to blame.

Why do schools have “Zero Tolerance” policies anyway?  Are such policies fair and warranted?  Can’t we just have “Low Tolerance” policies  for non-criminal infractions that give administrators, kids and lawyers some room to find better solutions that keep a student in their home base school and provide an opportunity for the child to learn from their mistake?  Does every offense have to be worthy of school expulsion?

I remember when my brother was in high school in the 1970’s.  The school environment was very much like the film “Dazed and Confused” which depicted high school life in 1976.  If “Zero Tolerance” policies were in existence then, the student expulsion rate would have been through the roof!  I wonder how many of those graduates from the 70’s are now running our schools.  Why were “low tolerance” policies for non-criminal offenses okay then but not today?

Even in the 80’s when Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” drug campaign was the major focus at every American high school, kids could still screw-up without the threat of expulsion.  Remember, it was also the era of “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”  My middle-class, suburban  high school had plenty of “Jeff Spicolli” characters smoking it up in the bathrooms and courtyards.  Back then, we were even allowed to bring cough drops to school and even Midol – yes Midol and Tylenol.  And here comes the shocker –  we even shared our Midol and Tylenol.  Guess what?  We all survived.  We learned from the Spicolli’s at our school and from the Ferris Beuller-type characters who frequently skipped class.  Through observation of these in-house “characters,” other students learned what to avoid.  We also learned how to take some risk, have fun and enjoy being teenagers.

‘The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and ‘Dazed and Confused” were all major motion picture successes because they reflected reality.  This stuff happened in our schools in the 70’s and 80’s and they are still happening today.  Kids make stupid choices – sometimes really stupid choices.  But kids are stupid sometimes because – not surprisingly – they are still kids.  Can’t we give them some latitude when offenses are not criminal?  Film director John Hughes celebrated teenage immaturity and stupidity.  He also showed, with great humor, that these same stupid kids were capable of learning from their screw-ups and maturing in the process.  Can’t schools give kids the same latitude today?

At the very least, isn’t it time to have a serious review and public dialogue about “Zero Tolerance” policies?  None of us want our kids experimenting with drugs or alcohol but teen surveys demonstrate that they are likely to do so at some point.  Punishments for such offenses shouldn’t make the situation even worse.  These can be teachable moments if the offense wasn’t criminal.

If you are interested in advocating for this issue in your school district, bring it up to your school board.  Research what type of policies neighboring school districts and neighboring colleges and universities have implemented.  Here are two resources which offer guidance on what other parents are doing about disciplinary policies in the schools:   http://www.fairfaxzerotolerancereform.org, http://www.rutherford.org/Issues/ZeroTolerance.asp

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/22/AR2011012203855.html?hpid=newswell

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