School board wants to know if policies that contributed to suicide exist in Maryland

Fairfax County system's zero-tolerance disciplinary policy may have led boy to take his life

February 22, 2011|By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland State Board of Education wants to make sure school districts don't have zero-tolerance disciplinary policies similar to the one that may have contributed to the suicide of a Fairfax County, Va., teenager after he was suspended and subsequently transferred to a different school.

Nick Stuban, a football player and Boy Scout, spent two months out of school after he admitted to buying one capsule of a legal substance and was then transferred to a new school where he had no support or friends. The Washington Post detailed Stuban's story in an article published Sunday. His family believes that the school district's discipline policy was a factor in their son's taking his own life, according to the Post.

At the Maryland state school board meeting Tuesday, members said they were so concerned by the Post article that they believed they needed to act to ensure that such zero-tolerance policies do not exist in any of the 24 school districts in the state.

"We should make sure we have asked the hard questions," said school board member Kate Walsh, so that we can "assure ourselves that no school system in Maryland has such a policy."

In a letter to the Fairfax County school officials on Monday, the Stuban family asked for an end to policies that force students to be transferred to another school, even for first-time offenders, and for a more compassionate hearing process, according to the Post. Stuban died in January, 10 days after his transfer to a new school. The linebacker had expressed remorse for his actions and begged to be allowed to continue at Woodson High School.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she believed a comprehensive look at district discipline policies was needed. The Maryland school board has been critical of districts that enacted punishments it considered too harsh. In one case in 2009 in Dorchester County, the board was alarmed that a student was disciplined by being kept out of school for an entire year without being given any access to public education.

Madhu Sidhu, a board member, said she was particularly concerned about the length of time that it took for Stuban to go through the review process. "It may not be the processes, it may be the time," she said. "This student didn't deserve that kind of negligence."

James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr., president of the school board, asked Grasmick to look into how districts handle substances that are legal but are considered similar to a drug. Stuban purchased JWH-O18, a legal compound that has effects like marijuana.

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