Imagine you are a school principal, and a sixth-grade boy ambushes and punches a female classmate twice with no provocation. Should the race, religion, ethnicity, or sex of the attacker make a difference to the resulting discipline?
Most will be disappointed to learn that the answer is yes under Fairfax County Public Schools policy.
FCPS policies require principals to consider group identity in matters of discipline. FCPS instructs, “Student discipline must be implemented in ways that are equitable” (FCPS P. 2601.37P).
By design, FCPS’s “equitable” policies encourage leniency for attackers who are members of groups perceived as “over-represented” in disciplinary proceedings.
The resulting breakdown in classroom order and corrosion of culture are as predictable as they are grim. Day in and day out, the number one concern I hear from FCPS teachers is that they do not feel that the administration “has their back” in matters of classroom order and school discipline.
Teachers vote with their feet. Half of the teaching staff has departed in the past two years at one elementary school with a reputation for being lenient with bullies. When teachers talk about improved working conditions, this is one of the things they mean.
Sadly, the problem is likely to get worse. In a remarkable change in policy this summer, FCPS has dropped “prevention of behavioral incidents” as the focus of FCPS disciplinary practices. The consequences of this change are foreseeable: if you do not seek to prevent bad behavior, less bad behavior will be prevented.
The first step in addressing the breakdown in classroom order is to restore the equal treatment of all students. Teachers are entitled to have the support of school administrators in maintaining safety and order. Principals must have confidence that the equal and dispassionate application of discipline, consistent with the disciplinary matrix in the district’s Student Rights and Responsibilities policy, will be professionally commended and not condemned.
The primary focus of a public school system must be education. That cannot occur when student disruptions are not effectively addressed – or when they are swept under the rug in a misguided effort to engineer equal outcomes in the name of “equity.”
Equal treatment under law has been a shared aspiration in America for generations. It is the only discipline policy to maintain the broad-based support necessary for public education to flourish.
This article was first published in the Fairfax County Times on October 20, 2023.
Kevin Pinkney, a Harvard Law School graduate with two kids in Fairfax schools, is running for school board in the county’s Franconia District.
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