Steve Stuban was at Luther Jackson Middle School for seven hours June 9, waiting as the Fairfax County School Board held a final vote on the proposed disciplinary reforms. This was the climax of many difficult months following the suicide of his son, Nick Stuban. When the decision was finally announced, Stuban, along with other supporters, was ultimately disappointed.
“I kept holding out hope that they would come to their senses and do the right thing, and approve most of the reforms we were suggesting. When the school board meeting finally ended, they had only approved a handful of our reforms in a very watered down manner,” Stuban said. “I realized this board is the problem; this is what has to change. So I decided to run.”
When Stuban announced his candidacy for the Fairfax County School Board At-Large July 15, his story propelled him into the spotlight.
Stuban’s son, committed suicide January 20 while facing disciplinary charges. He had been suspended and recommended for expulsion last fall for purchasing a legal capsule of a marijuana-like substance outside school. By early January, when he was allowed to return to school, he had been transferred to Fairfax High School. His death brought the struggle with the “zero-tolerance” policy to the media’s attention.
“My wife and I reflected back on Nick’s experience with disciplinary procedures and thought, ‘okay, how is it that we can make something good out of this,’” Stuban said. “There wasn’t anything we could do about Nick’s situation, but there are too many hundreds of kids going through this disciplinary process, that the consequences are too severe if we do not challenge this system.”
Steven Greenburg, President of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said he supports Stuban, both personally and professionally.
“I think that Steve has taken a terrible tragedy in his life and, as bad as it is, has created a vision for himself,” Greenburg said. “His immediate reaction to that was to make sure that something like that never happens again.”
Stuban made challenging the system the center of his election campaigns, winning many supporters with promises to fix what he sees as a broken system.
“We need an effective school board that the public has trust in,” Stuban said. “Everything will be completely open. It might slow us down a little bit and we might have to work at this a little harder. It’s not just a part time job. We need to get this right; it is too important.”
Greenburg said at least two current members of the School Board will not be returning after this school year. He said recent controversial issues, including redistricting, the closing of Clifton Elementary School and the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy have made this a high-stakes race.
“In my twenty years here, I have never seen a more important School Board election,” Greenburg said.
Stuban’s opponents in the election are Ted Velkoff, Ilryong Moon, Sheree Brown-Kaplan, Lin-Dai Kendall, Ryan McElveen and Lolita Macheno-Smoak.
“This election presents a rare opportunity to reshape this board,” Stuban said. “There are enough like-minded candidates out here that are running very aggressively, and we’ve made these points central issues in the campaigns of every one of these candidates. I’m fairly certain we’re going to end up with a school board that has at least seven school board members that are thinking along the same lines that I do, and the way the majority of the public is thinking.”
Stuban said he hopes to change the way the public sees the school board and the education system.
Stuban said, “The school board should be able to publicly defend how they’ve reached all their decisions. They need to reflect a central principle in every decision that they make, that every student matters – every kid.”