A study by Texas Appleseed, a “non-profit, public interest law organization,” reports that many students are being sent to alternative schools for minor, nonviolent infractions. The report, entitled Keeping Schools Safe While Reducing Dropouts: Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline, asserts that zero-tolerance policies are inappropriately funneling students into alternative programs, which have a dropout rate five times that of a traditional school.
As the report’s title indicates, there is a strong correlation between being sent to an alternative school for disciplinary reasons and being sent to prison. However, school administrators have significant discretion in sending students with nonviolent behaviors to these programs. As the following chart shows, the majority of Disciplinary Educational Alternative Program (DAEP) referrals are for nonviolent offenses:
According to the Houston Chronicle, referrals to DAEPs disproportionately affect students of color and students in special education programs. In some districts such as Pasadena (a suburb of Houston), students in kindergarten or first grade are sent to alternative placements:
Suburban districts tend to be the most the most punitive, said Deborah Fowler, Texas Appleseed legal director.
Of these, the Pasadena Independent School District was one of the harshest.
It is the only district in Texas to appear on the report’s Top 10 districts with the highest alternative school referral rates each of the last five years. Houston-area school districts that made multiple Top 10 appearances in the past five years also include Galveston (twice), Spring Branch (twice) and Katy (three times).
“These numbers indicate that it is not the behavior that determines whether a student is referred to a (district alternative education program),” the report’s authors wrote. But rather, “it is, in large part, the district where the child goes to school.”
Other districts were spotlighted for sending black or special education students to alternative schools for nonviolent, noncriminal offenses at at least twice the rate of other students for the past five years. They include Humble, Klein, Katy, Pearland, Tomball, Goose Creek, College Station, Bryan and Huntsville. link
While clearly this is an embarrassment for the districts named in the Chronicle article, there are several implications for school leaders:
- We must do whatever we can to reduce racial and socioeconomic disproportionality in discipline referrals
- We need to create schools where students are set up for success and safety, not assume that kids will need to be sent to alternative schools
- We need to create systems and structures to promote positive behavior, not just systems for punishing negative behavior efficiently
- For the small number of children who cannot be successful or safe in a regular school environment, we need to create alternative schools where students can become successful, not take the next step down the path to prison
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