These days, a Texas student's tour through a disciplinary "alternative" school frequently presages the beginning of a decline that ends either in dropping out, or else commission of more serious offenses that land them in the juvenile justice system. The Texas Public Policy Foundation's Marc Levin pointed out this article from the Fort Worth Star Telegram revealing that many unfair policies and practices at schools that ultimately channel more kids into the courts and to the Texas Youth Commission weren't addressed at all:
In 2005-06, there were 136,938 reports of Texas students being sent to disciplinary alternative schools. These programs were created for students who are violent or seriously disruptive, said Leslie Smith, a program specialist with the Texas Education Agency.
But now, even students who talk back to teachers or fail to do their classwork can trigger a paper trail that could land them in a disciplinary alternative school.
Disciplinary Alternative School Programs have little state oversight, and they are not rated by the Texas Education Agency.
State law requires disciplinary alternative schools only to offer a minimum curriculum of English, math, science, history and self-discipline.
"This is not a complete curriculum that will allow a student to accumulate enough course credits to pass to the next grade," Smith said.
But disciplinary alternative schools can offer more. In the Birdville school district, for example, teachers teach the core courses. Work for electives such as honors or art classes is sent in from the students' "home" schools, offici als said.
State law requires disciplinary alternative schools to give students "a fair chance" to complete needed courses and advance to the next grade without making parents pay for summer school or correspondence courses. But schools are not required to announce that these options are available, Smith said.
The quality of education can also suffer for students who are sent to in-school suspension programs.
In 2005-06, Texas schools made 1.7 million referrals to in-school suspension programs. There are 4.7 million students in the state; some students received multiple suspensions.
"Most [in-school suspension] programs lack a substantial amount of instruction and are not staffed by a certified teacher," said Austin attorney Marc Levin, who is also a director for the Center for Effective Justice, Texas Public Policy Foundation. "While they are theoretically study halls, many anecdotal reports suggest there is often more chaos than studying."
The only time a certified teacher is required for in-school suspension programs is when a student is in such a program for at least six consecutive weeks.
Students can be suspended for a wide range of school infractions, often at the discretion of teachers or administrators.
Lewisville High School student Adrian Boykin was suspended in March for refusing to face the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance. He said his beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness prevent him from "worshipping false objects."
There is no state cap on the number of times that a student can be suspended, officials said.