RICHMOND — Steve Stuban’s son, Nick, committed suicide last January in the wake of school disciplinary proceedings that Mr. Stuban said he found out about only after it was too late. Now Mr. Stuban, with the help of several Northern Virginia legislators, is pushing for an overhaul of the state’s parental-notification policy to ensure the same doesn’t happen to other parents.
A group of lawmakers have introduced bills that would require parental notification in the event of a disciplinary investigation into violations or potential violations of school board policy.
“This truly is a bipartisan effort,” said Delegate Timothy D. Hugo, Fairfax Republican and the patron of one of the bills. “These things are happening that are tragic in the lives of these children, and we have an opportunity and an obligation to make sure that this does not happen again.”
Nick Stuban, a student and football player at W.T. Woodson High School, was recommended for expulsion after admitting that he bought JWH-108, a legal synthetic drug that has an effect similar to that of marijuana. He was suspended from school and a ruling reassigned him to Falls Church High School. Overcome with depression, Nick killed himself at home last January.
In response, the Fairfax County school board enacted sweeping changes to the county’s discipline policies last year. For example, the new rules added potential consequences other than involuntary school transfers for students who get into trouble.
But it’s still not enough, Mr. Stuban said.
“As we have recounted and testified about our experience, the public’s nearly unanimous reaction has been that of stunned disbelief,” he said. ” ‘There is no mandate for parental notification?’ ‘You weren’t notified before they started questioning Nick?’ ‘You were contacted only after they had determined he should be suspended?’ ‘There were no exigent circumstances necessitating questioning without first contacting you?’ The answer to each of these questions has been ‘No’ and the public’s response has been ‘This is a wrong that must be corrected.’ “
Delegate Kaye Kory, Fairfax Democrat, introduced a similar measure last year that sailed through the House of Delegates but ran into a roadblock in the state Senate. Education groups and other legislators were concerned about the wide-ranging language of the bill, which would have required notification when a student violated a school board policy that was “likely to result” in a suspension or the filing of a court petition.
Bonnie Atwood, a lobbyist for the Virginia Retired Teachers Association, said the group traditionally opposes bills that would add to the administrative duties of teachers.
“Administrative work for teachers is an issue,” she said. “Really, we want to work with parents — it’s certainly not that. It’s the administrative burden.”
Ms. Kory said the specific language in her bill this year tries to address that concern by specifically delegating the assignment of notifying parents to administrators, not teachers.
Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen, Fairfax Democrat, on Monday recalled a student that ran afoul of school disciplinary policies but was able to make it through with the help of parents — himself.
“Let me tell you, I had parents that saw me through those days, and, you know, I managed to grow up and become a semi-successful, or at least competent, adult,” he said. “And the Lord gives us parents to help us through those times when we’re 15, 16, 17 years old where frankly, the judgement isn’t always there. And it’s so important as schools that we engage parents and we let them know immediately when there is a problem that could end up changing the life of a young person.”
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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