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House will study school discipline
Bill dealing with school discipline to be studied for a year

Date published: 2/9/2012

By Chelyen Davis


--A House committee postponed for the year a bill that would have required schools to bring parents into the disciplinary process before questioning students for serious violations.

Del. Tim Hugo's bill will be sent to a special subcommittee studying the no-tolerance policies in public schools.

Hugo, R-Fairfax, brought the bill because of cases in which students were questioned about and expelled for violations without their parents being notified.

Earlier in the session, he and others held a news conference with the family of a Fairfax student who killed himself after being expelled from his school for having a drug in his possession.

His father said school officials questioned his son over several days before calling the father.

"We're on the verge of ruining some of these kids for life," Hugo said.

But much of the discussion revolved around whether school officials are taking some minor offenses too seriously, and whether they should have some latitude in dealing with students.

Hugo cited, among others, a case in Spotsylvania County where a student blew a spitball and wound up being charged with criminal conduct and possession of a weapon.

"These kids are shooting spitballs and being sent to the police," Hugo said.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, cited a Fauquier County case in which a student fought back against a bully and ended up being suspended himself.

"It seems like these school boards and school administrators, once they get in a position of authority, they lose all common sense," Cole said.

Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said that's the legislature's fault, for passing laws that require school boards to suspend students or call police for certain violations.

"The school boards are not necessarily just overreacting," McClellan said. "We told them to."

When in doubt about the appropriate sanction, McClellan said, schools are likely to expel a student, fearing lawsuits if they don't.

Stacy Haney of the Virginia School Boards Association agreed.

"The spitball example, as silly as it may sound, we are required by law to report that to law enforcement," she said.

She and others also said Hugo's bill would limit school principals' ability to question students about violations of school rules, or even to ask other students if they witnessed anything, without calling in the parents.

"This is a lot broader than just limiting whether we can question the offender," Haney said. "This is going to cause a real problem. This is going to limit principals' ability to keep order in the school."

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com