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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 02/23/2011
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The rationale for strict high school discipline

By David Campbell, Springfield

Have the authors of the Feb. 20 front-page article on Fairfax's zero-tolerance discipline policy ever been in a class with students who bring drugs or weapons to school, who buy drugs at school or are chronically disruptive? Such students can create a bitter and fearful environment for students interested in learning, and students who care are grateful when the frequent fliers in the disciplinary system are removed from their classes.

In a Jan. 23 Metro story about Nick Stuban's suicide, a student who transferred to W.T. Woodson High School after having committed vandalism at another school complained that his disciplinary hearing was "degrading," and that he was "treat[ed] like a criminal," as if somehow vandalism were not a crime and disciplinary hearings were supposed to boost his self-esteem. If students are so concerned about "degrading" encounters, they might consider how degrading it is to students whose property is vandalized, or to the maintenance staffs who must clean up vandals' messes. They might consider as well how grossly unfair it is that their disruptions make learning harder for other students.

I don't doubt that Nick Stuban was a good kid who made a dumb mistake. But he did buy a marijuana-mimicking substance at school. Woodson officials had to treat what seriously, and they did.

The writer is a teacher at Centreville High School.

By David Campbell, Springfield  | February 23, 2011; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County, Virginia, child services, education, schools  
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Comments

"I don't doubt that Nick Stuban was a good kid who made a dumb mistake. But he did buy a marijuana-mimicking substance at school. Woodson officials had to treat what seriously, and they did."

Yeah. And then the kid killed himself.

Posted by: wpguest1 | February 23, 2011 8:36 PM | Report abuse

This is my comment to the editorial, but it applies here too:
A friend of mine used to be a principal. He told me the last he wanted to do was to suspend or expel a child. He felt all that meant was they would be home watching TV, perhaps smoking dope and otherwise getting into trouble. What he did was to take the child under his wing, find out what was close to the child's heart. Using that he would work at turning the child around. Given his dedication it was clear, no child was left behind at his school. He would find out what made the child tick and use it. Isolating a child never changes his/her heart and mind. Zero tolerance was a failure in criminal law and is with children too. We can't afford to throw any of our children away. This attitude also had a profound impact on the school's culture.

Posted by: michbar2468 | February 23, 2011 10:08 PM | Report abuse

They treat a "marijuana-mimicking substance" pretty much the same as marijuana and you don't see a problem with that? How about trating things differently based on their legality? You know, like the real world does? Next thing you know, having aspirin will be a discplinary offense. Oh wait, . . ..

Posted by: ronjaboy | February 24, 2011 6:33 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for presenting your personal teacher vantage point. However, such a vantage point is not enough to provide the "correct" answer on this one. Why can't FCPS use critical thinking skills? Is this “one child at a time”? Is this a best practice with the best outcomes? Nick was a good kid, “but”…

Why treat a serious problem by creating a potentially more serious problem? Have you ever been in a room full of students whose classmate just killed himself? Talk about disrupting class or evening homework. Well, Josh and Nick will not bring marijuana or a legal substance to school in the future. Problem solved? I think not.

Posted by: RubyBridges | February 24, 2011 7:51 AM | Report abuse

ronjaboy........
Oh, the Tylenol stories we could tell. Thanks for your post.

Posted by: RubyBridges | February 24, 2011 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Pretty harsh words from a former pastor. http://www.linkedin.com/pub/david-campbell/10/282/49

My son went through the disciplinary process because he found a knife in his sandwich. He also was treated like a criminal but was no threat to others and had a sterling student record.

I agree with getting the frequent offenders out of the system but there needs to be a stop in criminalizing childish behavior and the inhumane treatment of young people for minor offenses.

Pastor Campbell do you not believe in redemption? With zero tolerance polices, there are no distinctions between mortal and venial sins....all are treated the same.

What children learn in school today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow.

Posted by: ffx620 | February 24, 2011 8:16 AM | Report abuse

I don't doubt that Nick Stuban was a good kid who made a dumb mistake. But he did buy a marijuana-mimicking substance at school. Woodson officials had to treat what seriously, and they did.

This is ridiculous thinking,and coming from a teacher, it shows what kids are up against. Nick Stuban had to go with his parents, his mother in a wheelchair and a ventilator, to a hearing and show remorse for buying something that was not illegal and not harmful. That was enough. Just the hearing itself with parents taking time off work and a sick mother struggling to get there and a remorseful embarrased young person in a room with adults in authority shows that the county took it seriously. Everything else was overkill.

Posted by: vickiking | February 24, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Mr Campbell, I'd suspect you're in the minority in the way you think as a teacher. My first question is why did you get into teaching, since you seem to lack passion? To think that all this gun toting, drug selling, disruptions and whatever else happens at Centreville HS, makes me wonder why the principal and other teachers aren't fired, since this seems to go on daily, yet I never see any of these issues making the news.

Somehow I really doubt it's as bad as you make it out to be. And if that's the case, then you, Mr Campbell just lied to the public and made Centreville HS look really bad. Now I need to write the principal and find out from him how bad it really is at Centreville HS.

My problem with Fairfax public school is the lack of common sense from a school system that claims to pride itself academically. Well, guess what, Fairfax Public school system was just made to look like a bullying style school system. And it sounds like it happens more often than most would know.

Posted by: larry40 | February 24, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: vcalvert1 | February 24, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Mr.Campbell I am so glad you never taught any of my children, and it is this very thought process that isn't working. Good kids do dumb things, it doesn't mean they are bad kids and it doesn't mean they aren't deserving of discipline, but the punishment needs to fit the crime, and the zero tolerence policy simply does not work, it is broken and time to fix it, you simply cannot put all mistakes made into a one-size fits all policy. So How long did it take the school to stop you from being an independent caring thinker? Unfortunately this isn't occuring in just Fairfax county, try prince william, I am currently going through something very similar. At least my son, just like Nick, told the truth when asked by school officials, was polite and cooperative, which is a far cry from how they were treated in return. I am not making excuses for what my child did, but the punishment is far too severe, inhumane and cruel, especially for a first time offence, but I guess you grew up perfect, never making a mistake, so go ahead, cast your stone!

Posted by: mom31 | February 24, 2011 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Mr.Campbell I am so glad you never taught any of my children, and it is this very thought process that isn't working. Good kids do dumb things, it doesn't mean they are bad kids and it doesn't mean they aren't deserving of discipline, but the punishment needs to fit the crime, and the zero tolerence policy simply does not work, it is broken and time to fix it, you simply cannot put all mistakes made into a one-size fits all policy. So How long did it take the school to stop you from being an independent caring thinker? Unfortunately this isn't occuring in just Fairfax county, try prince william, I am currently going through something very similar. At least my son, just like Nick, told the truth when asked by school officials, was polite and cooperative, which is a far cry from how they were treated in return. I am not making excuses for what my child did, but the punishment is far too severe, inhumane and cruel, especially for a first time offence, but I guess you grew up perfect, never making a mistake, so go ahead, cast your stone!

Posted by: mom31 | February 24, 2011 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Bottom line is these administrators want to ship off these kids and want to make them someone elses problem. All off this could have been handled with a sit down between the Principal, the student and his parents. But that would entail someone actually doing their job.

Posted by: CHICO13 | February 24, 2011 3:27 PM | Report abuse

In the case of Nick Stuban, if the Washington Post articles record the facts accurately, the boy should never have been expelled. He should have had to write a paper on drug abuse and served a Saturday detention and a meeting with his parents. Past that the case should have been over. The school's superintendent has been quoted as saying that its "unconscionable" for a school board member to link two recent suicides and the school's discipline policy. While I am sure Dr. Jack Dale is a good person trying to do his job, he is wrong to describe the board member linking the two this way as unconscionable. Is it unconscionable to link divorce and depression? Is it unconscionable to link job loss to depression? Nick Stuban may not have been as happy as some thought, but the expulsion very much had an impact that led to his suicide. Had he not been expelled he'd be a teen who is nice but has a little bit of emotional sensitivity if he is how the articles have described him. I should emphasize that I don't know Nick Stuban at all, but it is clear the expulsion is why he is not alive today. The school board MUST increase counseling for students suspended, expelled, or being disciplined. Some students respond by changing 360, some take it out on others and get mad and argumentative, some take it out on themselves and with the student Nick that ended in tragedy as was the case for Josh Anderson.

Posted by: GowAlum | February 24, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

In the case of Nick Stuban, if the Washington Post articles record the facts accurately, the boy should never have been expelled. He should have had to write a paper on drug abuse and served a Saturday detention and a meeting with his parents. Past that the case should have been over. The school's superintendent has been quoted as saying that its "unconscionable" for a school board member to link two recent suicides and the school's discipline policy. While I am sure Dr. Jack Dale is a good person trying to do his job, he is wrong to describe the board member linking the two this way as unconscionable. Is it unconscionable to link divorce and depression? Is it unconscionable to link job loss to depression? Nick Stuban may not have been as happy as some thought, but the expulsion very much had an impact that led to his suicide. Had he not been expelled he'd be a teen who is nice but has a little bit of emotional sensitivity if he is how the articles have described him. I should emphasize that I don't know Nick Stuban at all, but it is clear the expulsion is why he is not alive today. The school board MUST increase counseling for students suspended, expelled, or being disciplined. Some students respond by changing 360, some take it out on others and get mad and argumentative, some take it out on themselves and with the student Nick that ended in tragedy as was the case for Josh Anderson.

Posted by: GowAlum | February 24, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

This attitude also had a profound impact on the school's culture.


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Posted by: carstenantoon | February 25, 2011 5:54 AM | Report abuse

Zero tolerance policies are often nothing but excuses to not have to think. This is how high schoolers with a couple of tylenol in their locker get expelled. Any hint of a dumb mistake and there are a lot of school officials who would rather not deal with a 'troublemaker'. Not all of them of course, but even just one coupled with these ridiculous zero tolerance laws can wreck havoc on someone's life.

Even if a person is involved in drugs what good does it do to expel them on the first offense without giving them ways to get help. Often the kids seriously into drugs have other problems that could possibly be addressed if the attempt was made instead of just writing them off. And for those who really did just make a dumb mistake these rules are not helping the situation by kicking them out and leaving them with no options.

Suspend them if it's a must. Get them into counseling. Offer them other resources before just writing someone off. But it's the ultimate in laziness and being uncaring to not evaluate each situation separately when coming up with punishments.

Posted by: sailyn2 | February 25, 2011 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Zero tolerance policies are often nothing but excuses to not have to think. This is how high schoolers with a couple of tylenol in their locker get expelled. Any hint of a dumb mistake and there are a lot of school officials who would rather not deal with a 'troublemaker'. Not all of them of course, but even just one coupled with these ridiculous zero tolerance laws can wreck havoc on someone's life.

Even if a person is involved in drugs what good does it do to expel them on the first offense without giving them ways to get help. Often the kids seriously into drugs have other problems that could possibly be addressed if the attempt was made instead of just writing them off. And for those who really did just make a dumb mistake these rules are not helping the situation by kicking them out and leaving them with no options.

Suspend them if it's a must. Get them into counseling. Offer them other resources before just writing someone off. But it's the ultimate in laziness and being uncaring to not evaluate each situation separately when coming up with punishments.

Posted by: sailyn2 | February 25, 2011 6:48 AM | Report abuse

There is a difference between strict discipline vs. grinding a minor offender into dust. If Mr. Campbell has this much trouble controlling students with drugs/weapons in his classroom- I suggest he find another profession.

Posted by: Nellie5 | February 25, 2011 8:06 AM | Report abuse

My son, Dante Verme, is the student you are referring to.

His vandalism offense (or “crime” as you call it) was graffiti: he spay-painted a smiley face and signed his nickname on a FCSP high school wall (he also trespassed at two other schools, but did no additional graffiti).

My son made a big mistake, regrets it, has had the chance to apologize, has paid for it in many different ways, and will continue paying for it until he is 22 years old, when he will once again be allowed to enter any Fairfax County school, if he behaves. Neither he nor we asked or expected the hearing officers “to boost his self-esteem,” as you put it. For that, he fortunately has family, teachers, and friends who recognize that he is basically a very good kid.

Due to his mistake, Dante was suspended and recommended for expulsion on January 5, 2010, by his former school’s (Chantilly High School) principal and after the first hearing, by the FCSP Hearing Office. With the help of a lawyer and the support of his family and friends, as well as of his assistant principal, his counselor, his LD and regular teachers, and his football coaches at Chantilly, we appealed the Hearing Office’s decision to the FCPS Board.

Fortunately for Dante, the School Board did not concur with the recommendation of expulsion. Instead, he was placed on long-term suspension with no chance to ever return to Chantilly High School, or any other regular school until the academic year was over. At that point, he applied to be re-instated into the system and was transferred in August 2010—by a caring and warm hearing officer—to W.T. Woodson, where he was warmly welcomed by his new principal, administrators, LD team, teachers and caring football coaches and team members.

In June 2011, Dante will be a proud graduate of W.T. Woodson, but will always have Chantilly High School and his former coaches and teammates in his heart; no one can take that away from him. His college application essay focused on his mistake and his experience with the FCPS hearing office. Partly on the basis of that essay, he was accepted into the three universities to which he applied, and two of them offered him scholarships.

We are very happy and thankful that we can celebrate Dante’s accomplishments and life, today, as a family and community. We wish that every parent in this county could enjoy those same feelings. We need to join together—parents, school officials, and elected leaders—to support and help students and families who have or are going through this long, isolating, and difficult process. It is a process that affects the entire family—emotionally, financially and even physically—and that can very easily lead to depression and even despair in an otherwise normal teenager. We all care deeply about our children, Mr. Campbell, and given that common ground, surely we can work together.

Posted by: soniameyverme | February 25, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I hope this teacher gets a speeding ticket and the judge takes his license away for the rest of his life.

Posted by: Island_Boy | February 25, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

"I don't doubt that Nick Stuban was a good kid who made a dumb mistake. But he did buy a marijuana-mimicking substance at school. Woodson officials had to treat what seriously, and they did."
-----------------------------------------

And now Nick Stuban is dead. Who do his parents see about THAT?

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 25, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

In this case, the dumb mistake was the expulsion of a student for a substance that is completely legal for him to possess. With the exception of buying something more legal for him to own than the cigarettes dozens of students smoke at Braddock Park (adjacent to the CVHS campus) before and during school, Stuban was a Boy Scout, an active supporter of charities devoted to ALS research, and a student athlete.

Should we ban students for the lawful purchase and possession of energy drinks (a drug-containing substance that mimics the effects of cocaine)? How should far should our prosecution of "dumb mistakes" extend?

When the church was faced with the task of dealing with pedophilia, a crime far more destructive than the possession of a legal substance, shuffling them from clergy to clergy clearly was not the answer. Just as taking students deemed "troublemakers", ripping them from the social setting they know, and dropping them in an alien environment is completely counterintuitive. The "dumb mistake" in this case was expulsion, and the consequence is tragic.

Posted by: CVHSAlum | February 28, 2011 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I have never seen so many apologists for bad behavior in one place.

Seriously, blaming the teachers and the school for punishing the student? This is why the youth in this country are a bunch of spoiled, entitled brats. It's very sad that this boy committed suicide. And it's jsut as sad that people would try to pin the 'fault' for it on people who were doing their job properly.

Posted by: jenms | March 1, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm certainly not blaming the teachers, as they played no role in his expulsion. I'm blaming the policymakers and administrators who actually believe that ripping children from their peers and tossing them from school to school is going to improve their behavior.

It's too easy to make blanket statements about today's youth being "entitled spoiled brats" -- as someone who grew up in Fairfax County I realize I've led a very privileged upbringing and was lucky to have access to such productive schools.

My point is that David Campbell worked to stop the church from shuffling pedophiles from region to region, as ignoring a problem and dealing with it through a policies of relocation and feigned ignorance is foolish.

Now he argues FOR comparable policies in our classrooms -- the solution for these kids is rehabilitation. I don't have all the answers, but zero-tolerance expulsion for legal substances is NOT part of it.

Posted by: CVHSAlum | March 2, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

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