Parents and students greeted the most sweeping change in Fairfax County's school discipline policy with relief, saying it was time to update a policy that had led to the expulsion of hundreds of students.
The newly adopted policy would give principals more discretion in how students would be punished for violations. Officials can consider community service, Saturday school and other measures before transferring or expelling a student.
Over the years, hundreds of students have been punished with transfers to other schools or expulsion even for minor violations of district policy.
"We're not criminals, we're just being teenagers," said a Fairfax student.
At a packed school board meeting Thursday, many parents spoke in favor of the change, including from the family of Nick Stuban. The 15-year-old W.T. Woodson student committed suicide after being expelled for possessing a synthetic form of marijuana.
His father, Steve Stuban, urged board members to "fix this and the other problems now."
Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Jack Dale has issued a 10-point plan in March that included notifying parents of disciplinary proceedings involving their children, adding transparency and speeding up the process.
In addition to Dale's suggestions, the board approved changes to provide academic support for student that are suspended, to permit an audio recording of disciplinary hearings. In a symbolic move, the board renamed the student handbook from "Student Responsibilities and Rights" to "Student Rights and Responsibilities."
In a statement, school board chairperson Kathy Smith said the board plans to collect data to analyze the impact of the new policies.
Parent Marc Setien supports giving officials more discretion. "I think you have to take it case by case and not just group everything together," Setien said.