Saturday, June 09, 2007

In-school suspension practices still flawed

Is there a school to prison pipeline and if so can it be disrupted without sacrificing public safety?

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.


Anonymous said...

It all makes sense if the object is to criminalize the underclass so as to further instill a deeper fear of the government.

I'd say it's working.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, when my youngest daughter was a junior at South Grand Prairie High School, she was placed in their in-school suspension for a week, for some type of in classroom disrespect incident. Even though I agree 100% there should have been some type of disciplinary action taken, I was appalled at what a joke their in-school suspension was. There were not allowed to work on school work, read, write or so anything constructive. They has to sit there the entire school day, facing the wall of the cubicles doing nothing.

Naturally, my daughter, along with others, would doze off out of the sheer boredom. After she did this twice in the week she was given, she was give 2 more weeks of in-school suspension. There was more nodding off, which then resulted in "out of school" suspension for 10 days. Clearly, this was the appropriate action to take, and totally benefits a child that is obviously less than thrilled with school in the first place. Even though I am willing to bet some county jails have less rules and security, they were at least given actual work to do, had supervision and learned something. Although, the atmosphere left something to be desired and I would love to know how many of those kids actually went on to graduate.

Of course, this particular high school is also the same one that didn't catch on to my daughter skipping 53 classes in a 2.5 month period until she arrived late one day due to a dentist appt, and the attendance office noticed her marked absent later the same day and realized what she had done and called me.
Their excuse for not realizing she skipped all the classes? "We have over 2000 kids and only 2 of us in the office to keep track of them"

Naturally she didn't earn enough credits that year and wouldn't graduate with her class anyway, so I packed her up and moved out to a very small town with a high school of about 350 kids, in east-ish Texas, where she didn't get lost in the system, graduated and is now in college.

Anonymous said...

anon 5:06:

I don't think stupidity discriminates. It's pretty widespread across the classes.

Anonymous said...

I remember a few years ago, being told by the director of the Travis County JDC that a big chunk of their referrals came from schools, who had gotten into the habit during the 1990s.
Bill Bush, UNLV

Anonymous said...

First let me say my children are out of high school. I have seen and read about some bone headed discipline decisions being made by school administration that resulted in good kids being treated badly. Kids suspended for kinds of things that were OK when I was in high school.
I know of one situation where a boy was sent to alternative campus because a pellet gun was found in the trunk of his car. The pellet gun was found because someone else was caught breaking into the car. The previous weekend the boy and his dad had been in the country shooting the pellet gun and they forgot to take it out of the car when they got home. They used all of the ammo and CO2 on their outing so the gun was not loaded.
Another story was a father cleaning fish on the tail gate of his pickup truck and leaving the knife in the bead of the truck. His son drives the truck to school the next day and is busted for having a weapon in school. He was kicked out of school even though he was an honor student.
It seems both of these young people were the victim of “Zero Tolerance Programs”. No mitigating circumstances would be considered in deciding how to handle the situation. Past outstanding behavior or academic achievement had no impact on the process.
Stories like these make me wonder just what in the hell are our school administrators thinking? Are they too lazy to make decisions based on the totality of the situation at hand? I think many school administrators are out of touch with the real world. They need to earn the money they are paid by making the hard decisions instead of being politically correct. “Zero Tolerance Programs” are something to hide behind and take the easy way out! “Zero Tolerance Programs” should be banned by the TEA.

Anthony Mikulastik

Anonymous said...

alternative schools are dangerous. Research has consistently shown that one of the major risk factors for delinquency is associating with a negative peer group. So we put all the kids who are having problems (both big and small) in the same place laying the ground work for the cycle of delinquency.

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of my sophomore and junior years in in-school suspension (ISS), mostly for things like "being to smart for my own good." I was remove from classes like AP biology, AP English and German IV to spend the day being monitored by a man named Leroy (hall monitore) and filling out multiple choice dittos. There were usually 6-10 of us subjected to Leroys unusal snoring patterns per day. If only I had a college credit for every time I barely missed his head with a spit wad, a paper clip or a paper plane with the words WAKE UP! scribbled on the wings. What a waste.

I wasn't a bad kid, and a lot of the kids who get punished aren't "bad." What they are is pretty normal kids who at a point in life where challenging structure is not only normal but necessary. What I learned from ISS was the lyrics to all the teen angst songs I enjoyed, how to sneak a note out with out Leroy waking up, and that ultimalty, I was not valued at my school.

Now I get paid to challange structure- if only someone had honed in on the talents I was being punished for, I could have benefitted from some career counseling, diretion and encouragement.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the schools of 20 years ago which handled matters "in house" instead of involving law enforcement and warehousing kids in a nonproductive situation? I'm not being snide, I honestly would like to know.

billt said...

Whatever happened to getting swats? Man, the fear of getting a couple from Coach Nix or Mr. Richardson kept me out of a lot of trouble. When I DID get caught, 2 or 3 pops straightened me right up!

Anonymous said...


Swats were still in practice (although they had to be oked in writing at the beginning of the school year by the parents, which I did) at South Grand Prairie High when my kids were there 2000-2004 however, when it came time for the discipline, it was an either or...they could chose swats and be done with it or choose the in school suspension. Naturally, most kids are not going to choose swats when given the option.

Anonymous said...

Just a few observations here from a school board trustee...the state and the federal government direct pretty much everything that happens in a public school system these days...duh. Smaller school districts don't necessarily do a better job with in school suspension, as the directions for ADED come from the same place. However, I do believe the number of students in these programs is relevant and the smaller districts are most likely dealing with fewer kids. Many alternative schools in Texas(which are not necessarily for behavior challenged youth only)have great success with keeping kids in school due to their 'alternative' scheduling and instruction methods. If it were not for these alternative schools, I fear the number of youth in TYC would increase greatly. So lets keep in mind that alternative school and in school suspension are two different things. If you have alternative schools in your district, I encourage you to check them out and see what they are doing there. You may be greatly surprised. I think I need to trim my fingernail length...I've probably got lots of typos in here and I apologize ahead of time:)

Supporting my public schools

Anonymous said...


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