May 22, 2009
Proposal to Correct Ongoing Abuses of Regulation 2230.8 (Exceptions for Attendance at Other Than Base School Procedure for Applying for Intracounty Exceptions)Problem: Abuses to the Pupil Placement Regulation
Fairfax County Public Schools Regulation 2230.8 provides very clear standards for pupil placement. These standards are being abused by an increasingly large number of families for the purpose of placing their children in more desirable sports programs at various schools throughout the County. We believe that in many cases these abuses are happening with the complicity of County employed coaches who encourage these placements to improve the competitiveness of their sports programs.
Further, while we believe the source of the abuse is the desire for preferential sports placement, the consequences extend well beyond the resulting unfairness in athletics, including: (i) a thwarting of redistricting efforts; (ii) over capacity at certain incoming schools; and (iii) disproportionate placement at schools where the populations are more consistently homogeneous, both socioeconomically and racially. Even if the County were willing to turn a blind eye to the unfairness of using the Pupil Placement Exceptions to build powerhouse sports teams, surely the County cannot turn a blind eye to the need for racial integration, redistribution of school populations and the overall benefits of a mixed and diverse communities at all our schools.
The purpose of this initiative is to bring these abuses to the attention of the School Board, the Superintendent’s Office, all FCPS High School Principals and Athletic Directors, all FCPS High School PTSA organizations and various other sports and academic organizations throughout the County with the goal of seeing these abuses end in the upcoming school year. As is aptly taught in our schools, “knowledge is a powerful tool.” With the knowledge contained in this statement and the County’s ability to easily investigate and substantiate these claims, we are confident that prompt action will be taken.
Review of Regulation 2230.8
School Board Regulation 2230.8, which all members of FCPS are obligated to enforce and apply in good faith, provides seven bases for applying for an exception for attendance at other than a base school (hereafter, “Pupil Placement”), only five of which apply at the High School level. Exceptions are available for the following reasons:
1.Due to Boundary Adjustments
2 Exceptions for Family Relocation
3.Exceptions for Child Care Hardship (Elementary School Only)
4.Exceptions for Medical, Emotional, Social or Family Adjustment
5.Child of FCPS Employee
6.High School Curricular Program
The boundary adjustment exception only applies to fourth, fifth, seventh and eleventh graders and will therefore be left out of this discussion. The exceptions for childcare and kindergarten do not apply by definition.
While this statement is centered on abuses of the exception for High School Curricular Programs, we’d like to comment briefly on some limitations associated with the remaining three exceptions. We believe these exceptions have also been abused, albeit less frequently, for the purposes identified in this statement.
· Exception for Family Relocation. This basis for exception is available only when the family has moved during the school year or can demonstrate definite plans to do so. Proof of the new residence must be provided. The new residence must be the primary permanent residence of the student and the student’s family. The proof must be bona fide and it must also be established that the alternative residence has been abandoned by the family.
· Exception for Medical, Emotional or Family Adjustment. The medical, emotional or family hardship must be “exceptional.” Documentation must be provided substantiating the circumstances, including as prepared by a physician, psychologist or counselor.
· Child of FCPS Employee. The parent must be a FCPS employee (not volunteer), and must work more than 20 hours per week in FCPS. If those conditions are met, the parent can seek placement only at the school he/she works at or the school nearest the employee’s work location.
The fact that each of these exceptions requires multiple conditions to be satisfied is evidence of the care the School Board gave to drafting these purposefully limited exceptions. Now the same care must be given to enforcing them.
High School Curricular Program Exception
The remaining exception, and the source of the greatest abuse, allows students to pupil place for the following reason:
The student intends to enroll and remain for the year in a sequential curricular program from the standard course offering, which is not offered at the base high school. For example, applications may be submitted for an exception for an Advanced Placement (AP) or an International Baccalaureate (IB) program if the base school does not offer the desired program of study. Student transfers can be requested to the school with space available that is closest to the student’s residence or base school.
We applaud the County for making available to each student a platform for learning that is most appealing to the student. However, this opportunity comes with School Board required conditions as well. First, the exception applies only on an annual basis and is subject to renewal each year in accordance with the renewal application process set forth in the Regulation. The renewal application shall only be approved if the reason for the exception continues to exist and the student maintains appropriate behavior, attends school regularly and demonstrates academic progress. Second, the exception is not available for placement at any school, but only to the school with the desired program that is closest to the student’s residence or base school. Last, the exception is only available if the school has space available and is not already at or near capacity.
We believe these qualifying conditions are routinely ignored, and particularly so in the case of student athletes. By way of example only, and not because we believe this to be the only school in the County in which these abuses are occurring, we wish to present certain facts known to us about Madison High School. In general, the fact that 100 students were pupil placed at Madison for the 2008-2009 school year is startling based on the fact that Madison is and has been “at or near capacity” for the last years and therefore isn’t even eligible to accept any placements. More specifically, the fact that there are nine pupil placed baseball players on the Madison baseball teams and that four of the nine pupil placed baseball players are freshman substantiates that the misuse is linked to sports and is on the rise.
Of the twenty-five students on the Madison HS Varsity Baseball Team, seven have pupil placed into Madison. Two additional pupil placed freshman play on the JV team. Of the nine baseball playing students pupil placed at Madison, we believe five have South Lakes as their base school and four have Marshall as their base school. These students are not your average athletes. Madison’s star JV pitcher is pupil placed at Madison and would otherwise be attending South Lakes. Two of the freshman pupil placed at
While we are not revealing the names of these students to protect their identities, these claims can easily be verified by the County. It is possible we have missed certain placements, but in no event are these numbers inflated. Further, this is happening year after year, as we’re sure team records can substantiate. Families are pupil placing child after child. This is not specific to baseball. It is happening in all sports, and it is very often the case that these pupil placing athletes are playing on multiple teams for different sports throughout the school year.
While this may be perceived by some as an unfair attack on a small handful of students, it is anything but. These practices have far reaching consequences at the base school, the placement school and the other high schools throughout the County. It is unfair to those base schools who year after year see all of their athletic talent drained away to nearby schools and then have to face those pupil placed kids on the ball field. (As we all know it has a seriously detrimental impact on the spirit of even the most resilient athlete to continuously lose to unfairly stacked competition. ) It is unfair to the kids at the placement schools who are either cut or spend the season standing on the side lines of their home school watching other students play in their places. (When we lose average student athletes from sports, we open the door to much less desirable behavior, including aimlessness, hanging out, and use of drugs and alcohol that many athletes shun for the negative impact it has on their performance.) It is unfair to the kids throughout the County who don’t have anything to do with sports themselves, but who perhaps find themselves sitting in a classroom that is at over capacity or who otherwise never have the chance to root for a winning team since they are unnaturally the perennially losers. (Being a member of a “winning” and happy school yields a sense of school pride, allegiance, and involvement; it may even provide the motivation for a student to win in the classroom. Without the common bond and sense of school pride that competitive sports teams can provide, the school population can become fractured and disheartened.) Finally, it is unfair to all the other teams throughout the County who are playing by the rules and not recruiting talent, either proactively or with a blind eye to abuse of the Pupil Placement policy.
Proposal to Make Changes:
Upon review of the Regulation, it is our view that if there is a renewed commitment on the part of FCPS Principals and Athletic Directors to end these abuses, they would end. The Regulation already provides the basis for appropriate selection and monitoring. It is simply not being enforced. Some obvious violations come to mind:
- A school that is already at capacity is not eligible for pupil placement based on curricular preference. All applications on that basis must be rejected.
- A student who lives closer to another school offering the preferred curriculum (or whose base school is closer to that other school) should be rejected for pupil placement at any other school with the preferred program. (It is quite possible that several South Lakes based students pupil placing at Madison are required to seek placement for AP courses at Herndon.)
- An objective and meaningful review process has to be conducted each year to assess whether the exception granted to a given student to continue attending a non-base school should be granted anew. It should not be a rubber stamp. The student must be attending the AP or IB classes they sought as the premise for the exception in sufficient number and with proven success for the exception to continue to be granted. One AP course should not be enough; a minimum of two AP courses in core subject matters and ongoing success in those courses should be required.
- A red flag should rise and be examined as the source of potential abuse whenever a pupil placed student is overly familiar with the coaches, is an overnight success on the ball field, or just happens to skip right onto the Varsity team.
If the County were inclined to take action beyond mere enforcement of Regulation 2230.8, it could easily and effectively curtail known abuses of the School Curriculum Exception by amending the Regulation to provide that a student pupil placing into a non-base school for academic reasons is ineligible to play sports for the first year of attendance. If the premise is truly to seek an alternative academic platform this should provide no hardship whatsoever. For those students who might otherwise argue that access to the sports fields is needed to gain potential scholarship money, then playing for three years should be adequate. This change would be consistent with current rules that require transferring athletes to sit out for one year of play. FCPS is, after all, in the business of offering its students an education, not a spot on a sports team. Perhaps this “sit-out” rule alone will be enough to discourage students from seeking placement for athletic rather than academic purposes.
The only way of ensuring that these abuses will be curtailed is if there is independent oversight, accountability for those administrators who fail in their obligation to ensure compliance with Regulation 2230.8 and a heightened awareness among affected school populations in Fairfax County.
We urge the County to consider the formation of a committee compromised of parents, athletic personnel and county administrators to review the results of applications made to all schools throughout the county for Pupil Placement exceptions, and to issue a report on the impact of such placements on student athletics and other school programs on an annual basis. Principals at the incoming schools should not be left with the discretion to turn a blind eye to sports motivated placements, and parents should be given access to information needed to validate that these abuses are curtailed. Many parents stand ready to aid in this endeavor at no cost to the county, and we are certain there are FCPS personnel committed to doing so as well.
For those schools that cannot play by the rules, disciplinary action should be taken. Precedence for this response can be found in the case of Thomas Jefferson High School, which just this past fall was found by the Virginia High School League to have violated a League Rule that made one of its players ineligible for play. Upon self reporting the violation, the school was issued a formal warning, fined $1000 and required to submit a detailed written plan to prevent against any reoccurrences.
One thing is certain and that is that these matters are ripe for attention. Establishing appropriate enforcement procedures for Regulation 2230.8 is something that must happen immediately, and not languish over the summer. Requiring ongoing and regular screening not only when first time pupil placement decisions are made, but throughout each school year and each pupil placed student’s tenure at a non-base school must proceed and must be capable of being monitored. Each school must be told to proactively curtail the abuses or be ready to have it forced upon them. Parents considering past practices should be warned they will not continue, and that each application for a placement exception will be screened on an annual basis as it should be. Support is growing for definitive action, and we intend to foster it. As support grows the fear of those who have stayed silent too long for fear of retaliation against their children is dissipating.