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FCPS proposes to update dress code and more severely punish substance misuse

Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

Fairfax County Public Schools is proposing some notable updates to its student policies.

At last week’s school board meeting, school officials laid out a number of proposed revisions to its Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook, including how cases of bullying are handled, what’s interpreted as appropriate clothing, and the potential for increased punishment for substance misuse.

The presentation from FCPS Assistant Auperintendent Michelle Boyd was relatively brief due a planned school board work session next week (May 23), which will likely be spent discussing the proposed dress codes updates, Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch noted.

Essentially, FCPS is looking to update verbiage around the dress code, which was last reviewed in 2016. The update will not include a ban on pajamas that was initially proposed earlier this year but has since been reconsidered.

Proposed language includes the dress code supporting “equitable educational access” while not reinforcing stereotypes or increasing marginalization:

FCPS’ student dress code supports equitable educational access and is written in a manner that does not reinforce stereotypes or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, color, national origin, caste, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, medical condition, household income, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, disability, age, or genetic information.

It also clarifies that the same rules apply “regardless of the student’s age or gender” while providing examples of what isn’t allowed, including clothing that depicts or promotes use of weapons, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

Any violation and enforcement of the dress code will continue to be addressed in a “discreet” manner, showing respect to the student, and “minimizes loss of instructional time.”

“Violations of the dress code should generally be treated as minor infractions unless they are repeated or egregious in nature (e.g., streaking, hate speech),” the current code says.

However, this can leave much open to interpretation for school staff and administration. Several school board members noted that some language could be included to ensure a more standardized interpertation across the school system.

“I know we are trying to thread a needle here between what kids recognize as appropriate dress and not,” Springfield District School Board member Laura Jane Cohen said.

Also being proposed is a shift in what happens when there are alleged acts of bullying. The school system is now seeking to require that a principal or staff member notify a parent or guardian of every student involved in an alleged act of bullying within 24 hours of learning about the incident.

The update would also better define that bullying involves a “power imbalance” and what that could look like.

“Examples of a power imbalance include, but are not limited to, greater physical strength or size, access to embarrassing information, or greater popularity or social connectedness,” reads the updated definition.

Also proposed are updated definitions of harassment, hate speech, and hazing, along with potentially more severe punishments. For example, hazing could become a Level 5 infraction, which is the most severe and could result in law enforcement getting involved.

In addition, students with a first-time hate speech infraction would be required to participate in “culturally responsive intervention.”

FCPS is also tweaking its handling of substance misuse in response to recent incidents. While incidents involving alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants customarily result in a two-day suspension, the school principal can decide to levy even more disciplinary action if the conduct has “substantially disrupted the instructional program [or] endangered the well-being of others.”

This could mean a referral to the superintendent and a suspension of up to 10 days. There are number of other changes being asked for, including rewordings and clarity in terms of verbiage, but as Boyd said, those are “relatively minor in nature.”

After next week’s work session, a revised draft is set to be presented to the school board at the end of the month. The school board is expected to vote and adopt the updated students’ rights and responsibilities by the end of June.

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