As I write this column the Virginia Legislature is in session to consider redistricting plans released last week by the House and Senate Privileges and Elections committees.
New legislative boundaries will be in effect beginning with the primaries in August for the upcoming November election. There will be many opinions on the extent to which the two parties-the Republicans in the House and the Democrats in the Senate-have gerrymandered to assure incumbent job security and/or political control. My first reaction is that the two parties have applied about the same level of partisanship: unsavory, but not over the top. In Virginia’s case, at least, one party is not able to completely dictate the map, but I would certainly like to see citizen support for legislation or even a constitutional amendment (see, for example, the State of Washington) placing this power in the hands of a commission.
The legislature will also be conducting the annual “veto” session to consider Governor McDonnell’s “additions, changes and deletions” to the legislation we sent him during the regular session.
Overall, I think the Governor has had a moderating impact on the more extreme elements of his party, but I am disappointed by many of his changes:
• Adding an abortion funding restriction to the proposed Commonwealth-run Health Exchange that will be established under the new Federal health care legislation;
• Limiting the new requirement that insurance companies cover services to children aged 2 to 6 diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder;
• Vetoing new physical education standards that would require elementary and middle schools to provide students with 150 minutes of physical activities each week (current standards specify 150 minutes as a “goal”);
• Zeroing out Virginia funding for public broadcasting;
• Vetoing new Commonwealth shoreline management guidelines (passed unanimously by both houses);
• Vetoing new medical malpractice caps that were based on agreement worked out by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies in the Commonwealth.
Six weeks ago I reported on the Senate’s rejection of my bill (HB 1548) that would have required every school system in the Commonwealth to inform parents when a student violates school policy when such violation is likely to result in their suspension or expulsion. This bill passed unanimously in the house, but was defeated in the Senate as a result of lobbying by the VA School Boards Assn., the VA Assn. of Superintendents, the Secondary Schools Principals Assn. and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). I understand that Fairfax Superintendent Dale personally called several Northern Virginia legislators asserting that this bill was an “unfunded mandate” that would cost the schools millions.
FCPS discipline procedures have come under intense criticism by literally thousands of parents in the past several years. Recently, this Zero Tolerance Reform (ZTR) movement has gained significant visibility through media coverage. Criticism has focused on the “zero tolerance” policy for certain kinds of student infractions and the often ludicrous and sometimes tragic consequences of inflexible application of the policy. The issue came up at a Board of Supervisors meeting and generated angry denials by several School Board members and FCPS administrators. Last week Superintendent Dale offered a modest set of policy improvements, but which do not include notification.
FCPS opposition to parental notification legislation underscores the need for additional changes to Virginia code standards for school discipline. Timely parental notification regarding serious student violations should be the foundation of effective parent-school relationships. Objecting to notification because it costs too much is simply unacceptable.
Last week I convened a meeting in Richmond of a Task Force on Student Discipline. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together representatives of interested organizations and advocates for modifications to the Virginia Code that would facilitate more effective, responsive, flexible and accountable school discipline policies in public schools across the state. Organizations represented include the ACLU, Voices for Children, the Rutherford Institute, the Advancement Project, the Family Foundation, Just Children and Fairfax County ZTR. We hope to develop a legislative package for the 2012 session.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].