Ensuring Vulnerable Students Can Attend Their Community School
In Texas, youth exiting juvenile detention are frequently denied re-enrollment into their community school, despite it being essential to their rehabilitation and their legal right. At the same time, students of color and students with disabilities are being disproportionately dis-enrolled from their community school and sent to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs. The consequences to these vulnerable students is devastating. By improving probation agency policy and practice; improving school district policy and practice; and building the capacity of community based organizations, this project will ensure students exiting juvenile detention are quickly enrolled in their community school and vulnerable populations of students remain in their community school.
Texas students exiting juvenile detention are being denied enrollment in their community schools.
Students exiting juvenile detention experience numerous barriers reintegrating into public schools. Probation departments often lack critical information about services schools offer and are unsure how to raise concerns they have about the supports being providing. School districts are often unaware of the services probation departments are providing or can offer students reintegrating into community life. Both systems struggle to understand what records may be shared and with whom. Neither typically knows the best practice models that exist for supporting youth reintegrating into public schools from detention settings.
All the above contribute to a crisis for our most vulnerable youth: despite it being their legal right, students throughout Texas are routinely denied enrollment in their community school. Failure to attend school subjects them to the possibility of violating their terms of probation and being sent back to detention, not to mention the lack of opportunity to earn academic credits and advance towards graduation.
The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which requires timely reenrollment for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, provides a unique opportunity to address this crisis. Unfortunately, absent heightened awareness of ESSA and assistance developing and implementing inter-agency policies, youth returning from juvenile justice placements are unlikely to benefit.
Students of color and disabled students are being disproportionately funneled into Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs.
Texas law lists the serious offenses for which students must be removed to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs). The law also gives school districts significant discretion to remove students for other Code of Conduct violations. Many school districts use that discretion to place students in DAEPs for relatively minor offenses such as talking back to the teacher or acting out in class, behavior that is often a reaction to trauma in the child’s life or manifestation of a disability. Approximately two-thirds of the students sent to DAEPs in Texas are referred at the discretion of school districts.
Students of color and students with disabilities are significantly overrepresented in discretionary disciplinary referrals. Once referred to a DAEP, students often receive minimal- to-no-instruction. Students in DAEPs have abysmal educational outcomes: DAEPs have five times the dropout rate of mainstream schools.
Fortunately, ESSA again provides a unique opportunity to address this crisis; it requires all schools to report rates of in-school-suspension, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, school-related arrests, referrals to law enforcement, and chronic absenteeism, disaggregated by race and disability status. Texas law attributes these outcomes to the district that sent the student to the DAEP. Increased publicly available information on DAEPs has the potential to drive change.