Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Alabama High School System

Popular depictions of and beliefs about alternative education vary. Some see alternative education as a bed of roses where students under the loose supervision of committed educators learn freely and effortlessly in an unstructured environment. But that's not what statistics on and studies of alternative education tend to show. Education research points to a national consensus holding that banishments to alternative education's structureless environment, filled with troubled students, can do more harm than good. Education advocacy continues to assert that alternative schools are not schools of choice but involuntary sentences where traditional schools send failing students to languish. Legislatures may have intended alternative schools for the most dangerous and emotionally disturbed students. Alabama high schools charge students with all types of behavioral misconduct, both in public and private schools. Surely, high school officials intend disciplinary charges to preserve safety and promote an orderly educational environment. But education advocacy finds that students also get sent there for such minor offenses as rudeness or cell phone misuse. Alternative disciplinary placement, the fancy phrase for what educators and parents once called boot camp or reform school, is not your student's ambition. Retain national school discipline defense attorney advisor Joseph D. Lento to help your Alabama high school student avoid banishment to alternative education. Your student's future is worth it.

Who Goes to Alabama Alternative Education

A patchwork of Alabama laws authorizes local school districts to establish alternative education programs or disciplinary schools to which to divert troublesome students. Alabama Code Section 16-1-24.3 provides that students expelled for weapons possession “may be permitted to attend alternative schools designed to provide education services.” That's one at-risk student population you'll find in Alabama alternative schools: students with weapons offenses. Alabama Code Section 16-6B-3 similarly provides for “alternative or disciplinary schools in which children who consistently exhibit behaviors or patterns of behaviors that interfere with the learning environment of other students would be placed and would be provided counseling and instruction in basic skills.” That's a second alternative school population: students needing discipline for disruptive school behaviors. Alabama Administrative Regulation 290-3-1-.02 similarly authorizes alternative schools for students needing “skills in recognizing and managing anger, alternatives to aggression (verbal and physical assault), strategies for developing self-control and personal responsibility, and skills for getting along with others….” That's a third population you'll find in alternative schools: angry, aggressive, assaultive students lacking self-control. Other students also attend alternative schools. But on the whole, the alternative school student population is not the well-adjusted group you'd want your student to encounter. You can use the fancy phrase for it, but reform school may be more accurate.

Alabama Alternative High Schools

Alabama alternative high schools offer programs around the state, although not necessarily near your student's traditional high school. Alabama's alternative high schools, like alternative schools in other states, tend to identify their alternative missions in the school's name, although often only indirectly. Thus, Mobile offers The Pathway alternative school, Evening Educational Options, and Continuous Learning Center. Montgomery offers the McIntyre Comprehensive Academy. Birmingham offers the Jefferson County Counseling Learning Center East, Crossroads School, Family Court High School, and Dupuy Alternative School. Gadsden offers the City Alternative School. Alabama's alternative schools may have relatively standard programs aimed at high school graduation or may offer school-to-work programs steering students toward vocational opportunities or other special focuses. In theory, alternative schools seek to reduce structured classroom hours while increasing student autonomy and learning. But that's a hard mix in practice. And alternative schools can require so many extra behavioral interventions as to distract and annoy students who don't require or benefit from those services. Don't assume that your student needs or will benefit from alternative education. Investigate options carefully. Avoid forced alternative education placement.

Alabama High School Disciplinary Grounds

Disciplinary placement in Alabama alternative education should depend on the high school having solid disciplinary grounds. Alabama law authorizes, indeed requires, high schools to suspend and expel students who violate certain rules creating certain risks. Those laws list both general and specific grounds for suspension and expulsion while leaving it to the individual schools or districts to detail other specific grounds. Alabama Code Section 16-1-14 states the broadest general grounds for removal. The statute authorizes a high school to suspend or expel students “who create disciplinary problems in any classroom or other school activity and whose presence in the class may be detrimental to the best interest and welfare of the pupils of such class as a whole.” Other Alabama laws, like Alabama Code Section 16-1-24.1, authorize high schools to suspend or expel students “to ensure a safe school environment free of illegal drugs, alcohol, or weapons.” Another Alabama law, Alabama Code Section 16-1-27, authorizes a high school to suspend a student for an unauthorized pocket pager, cell phone, or other electronic devices. While guns and drugs in school are serious problems deserving serious discipline, an Alabama high school's statutory authority to suspend any student who creates disciplinary problems gives school officials very broad authority, even subjective judgment, and discretion, to suspend or expel your student.

Alabama High School Conduct Codes

Alabama law is especially keen on enforcing school discipline. For example, Alabama law authorizes each local school district to adopt a student code of conduct setting forth specific behavioral standards for students hoping to remain in school. Alabama Code Section 16-28-12(b) requires the school board to adopt “a written policy for its standards on school behavior.” Alabama Code Section 16-28A-1 grants every school student the right to study “in a non-disruptive environment.” The same statute requires teachers “to maintain order and discipline,” including, if the board approves, using corporal punishment. Under Alabama Code Section 16-28A-3, every school board must “develop a written policy on student discipline and behavior and … broadly disseminate them following its adoption.” Alabama Code Section 16-28B-4 requires school boards to prohibit bullying, intimidation, violence, and threats of violence on or off school property. Alabama schools must also adopt safe school plans, report property damage and physical assaults, and require expulsions in certain cases such as weapons possession. Violating a school code can result in disciplinary placement in alternative education.

Example Alabama High School Codes

School codes around Alabama carry out and expand on this statewide commitment to school discipline. For instance, the Birmingham City Schools, Montgomery Public Schools, and Huntsville City Schools each adopt elaborate student codes of conduct. Those student codes of conduct go well beyond the statewide mandates. School officials could also construe those student codes to reach and prohibit lots of common high school behaviors, especially those involving immature or boisterous hijinks and horseplay. School disciplinary officials may have broad discretion to charge and seek alternative placement for minor misbehaviors. For instance, the Birmingham City Schools Code of Student Conduct lists three classes of offenses, the second of which warrants short-term out-of-school suspension and the third of which warrants long-term suspension or expulsion. Those supposedly most serious third-class offenses include several dangerous activities but also activities that seem surprisingly minor in comparison:

  • Unauthorized drug possession
  • Alcohol possession or use
  • Arson
  • Assault, battery, and aggravated assault and battery theft and extortion
  • Illegal school entries
  • Vandalism and other criminal mischief
  • Firearms and other weapons possession
  • Bomb threats
  • Possession of explosives or fireworks
  • Sexual offenses, including pornography
  • Gang affiliation and activity
  • Refusal to comply with a school official's order
  • Other major disruptions to the school environment
  • False fire alarms or damage to fire equipment
  • Cell phone misuse or abuse
  • Unauthorized use of a school computer
  • Repeated defiant or disruptive behavior
  • Threatening a school employee
  • Bullying, harassment, or intimidation
  • Trespassing
  • Interfering with school personnel carrying out official duties

Alabama High School Disciplinary Procedures

The above Alabama high school disciplinary laws and codes prohibit many student behaviors. Alabama law and school codes also provide for disciplinary procedures through which high school officials can charge students and send them to alternative disciplinary education. Alabama Administrative Regulation 290-3-1-.02 requires school boards to offer an appeals process to students who face suspension or expulsion. The regulation requires the appeals process to meet at least minimal due process standards: “the appeals process shall follow the procedures adopted by the local board of education for a long-term suspension or expulsion. The local board of education may adopt a different appeals process so long as it provides minimal due process.” Due process requires reasonable notice of the charges and the evidence supporting the charges and the student's fair opportunity to contest the charges with the student's own evidence before an impartial decision maker. These protective procedures can be critical to a successful defense of Alabama high school disciplinary charges, especially when you retain skilled and experienced attorney advisor representation to defend and defeat the charges. Effective use of your student's procedural rights may be your key to preserving your student's traditional high school placement.

Example Alabama High School Disciplinary Procedures

Alabama high school student codes of conduct tend to expand and elaborate on the minimal due process that Alabama law requires schools to follow. Your student may get, indeed should get, and will get, if retaining skilled and experienced attorney advisor representation, a good chance to explain the situation, including presenting exonerating or mitigating evidence, before suffering suspension or expulsion. The Montgomery Public Schools Code of Conduct, for example, requires the high school principal to inform the accused student of the charges and the supporting evidence. The principal or designee must then hold an “informal due process conference,” permitting the student to tell the student's side of the story. The student may also identify witnesses for the principal or designee to interview to get the whole story. If the principal imposes a suspension or expulsion, the student and concerned parent or guardian may appeal the discipline to the district's Office of Student Support Services. Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville, and other Alabama school districts include similar procedures in their student codes of conduct or student handbooks. Your student's best outcome generally requires preparing to invoke and follow those protective procedures.

Representation for Alabama School Disciplinary Proceedings

Putting protective disciplinary procedures to their best effect is not a simple task for a person without legal training. Indeed, strategic deployment of Alabama high school administrative procedures for a winning defense is not for an unqualified local criminal defense attorney. Criminal defense attorneys know court procedures, not administrative procedures. Criminal defense attorneys know the requirements of judges and preferences of prosecutors, not the requirements and preferences of high school disciplinary officials. National school discipline defense attorney advisor Joseph D. Lento's successful representation of hundreds of students nationwide has taught him the required academic administrative knowledge, skills, and customs. Attorney advisor Lento knows how to evaluate high school disciplinary charges, identify and gather exonerating and mitigating evidence, invoke the customary conferences and hearings, and informally advocate the accused student's defense in concise and compelling arguments. Attorney advisor Lento's academic administrative skills are hard won, earned over many years from the successful defense of students facing all kinds of disciplinary charges. Get the skilled and experienced representation your student needs for a winning defense.

Informal Resolution of Alabama Disciplinary Proceedings

Winning defense of Alabama high school disciplinary charges, though, is just as often a matter of skilled informal negotiations as a matter of invoking disciplinary procedures. Your student's best outcome would be a prompt dismissal of the charges before stressful and distracting hearings and appeals. National school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has achieved early informal resolution through negotiation in many such cases. Local criminal defense attorneys unfamiliar with school disciplinary proceedings could easily close lines of communication with school officials, if treating those officials as they would a prosecutor. But attorney advisor Lento instead knows how to open those lines of communication, building trust and respect with school disciplinary officials. Attorney advisor Lento generally has vastly more experience with school discipline matters than any local school official. Attorney advisor Lento can often put that experience to work for the benefit of both the accused student and the school, helping along an early informal resolution that makes sense for both sides. Don't underestimate the value of negotiated resolution keeping your student in your student's traditional high school program. Retain attorney advisor Lento for a winning negotiation.

Appealing Alabama High School Discipline

The above discussion of Alabama high school disciplinary procedures shows the availability of disciplinary appeals when conferences and hearings with the school principal or other local school disciplinary officials fail to preserve the accused student's traditional high school enrollment. An appeal is a proverbial second bite at the apple. An appeal can turn a loss into a win, preserving your student's traditional high school placement. Appeals, though, require much more than waving a magic wand, like writing a simple letter requesting reinstatement. A winning appeal instead requires careful examination of the hearing record, research and drafting of an appeal argument and brief, and other compelling presentations showing the error of school discipline and alternative disciplinary placement. Winning appeals also require precise knowledge of appeal customs and procedures. Appeals are a special field for the few attorneys who practice them. Academic administrative appeals are an even more narrow field, one in which school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento is a national leader. Don't undertake your student's appeal on your own or with unqualified local counsel. Instead, trust your student's winning appeal to attorney advisor Lento.

Alternative Relief from Alabama Alternative Placement

Even if you and your student have exhausted all conferences, hearings, and appeals, your student may yet have special relief available for reinstatement to your student's traditional high school program. Alternative placement is a big deal for the accused student, big enough for some students to challenge that placement with litigation or regulatory complaints. School districts typically maintain general counsel offices, outside retained counsel, ombuds offices, or similar oversight functions to minimize litigation and regulatory risks. National school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully worked with those oversight officials in many cases to obtain special relief and reinstatement. Attorney advisor Lento has successfully handled so many student discipline cases that his national reputation and relationships can build trust and respect with oversight officials. Attorney advisor Lento also knows how to diplomatically address both the accused student's interest and the school's interest in ways that show how those interests align. Don't give up on your student's traditional high school enrollment, even if your student has no other available administrative procedures. Retain attorney advisor Lento to explore special oversight relief.

How Much Is Avoiding Disciplinary Placement Worth?

Parents helping their students face alternative disciplinary placement rightly weigh the costs of a vigorous defense against the costs of the disciplinary placement. Don't make the mistake of underestimating the costs to your student's future of a disciplinary placement. Disciplinary placement can seem like such an easy way out. Alabama high school disciplinary officials may present alternative education as exactly that, the easy and assured path forward. But that path will be easy only briefly until your student encounters the full challenges of the alternative program. The alternative education path then suddenly gets a lot harder. The costs of alternative placement, though, can go far beyond the struggles that alternative-ed students face in their program. Dropout is a formidable alternative education risk. Dropout rates can be far higher in alternative education programs. But even if a student completes alternative education with a high school diploma, the disciplinary placement alone can close doors to the student's preferred colleges, universities, and vocational programs. High school discipline can even affect opportunities for licenses and certifications and jobs and careers. Consider all costs in your calculus of how to defend your student's disciplinary charges.

Soft Impacts of Alabama Disciplinary Placement

Disciplinary placement can have the above hard, economic, countable impacts. But disciplinary placement can also have soft, hard-to-count impacts that can prove even worse than the countable hard impacts. Disciplinary placement can affect your student's mental, physical, and emotional condition. Isolation from friends and other peers, supportive teachers, counselors, and administrators, and school arts, athletics, and social events, can devastate a high school student. That impact can lead to further withdrawal, isolation, and depression. Depression can have its own dangerous effects, including things like substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. Disciplinary placement can also thwart your student's social and psychological development and development of life skills so natural to traditional high school settings and their extracurricular activities. Students placed in disciplinary schools can just disengage and disappear, which is the saddest thing for a parent to witness. Appreciate these and other soft, subtle, and at times severe impacts that high school disciplinary placement can have. Count your student's costs. You know your student best, but your student's future may be on the line.

Premier Defense Services Available in Alabama

Your student need not go without the required skilled and experienced attorney advisor representation. Premier school discipline defense attorney advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team are available in Alabama for your student's winning defense. Attorney advisor Lento has helped hundreds of students nationwide preserve their educational placement and program. He has done so because he has a heart and passion for student success and has built a team of trusted professionals to ensure that students have every opportunity for that success. Winning school discipline defense takes passion, commitment, skill, and experience. School discipline defense isn't something that attorneys generally learn in law school. Academic administrative proceedings are so different from what trial lawyers, including criminal defense attorneys, ordinarily encounter that retaining an unqualified local attorney can seriously damage your student's case. Trust attorney advisor Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to know your student's best strategic approach to defend and defeat Alabama high school disciplinary charges. Call 888-535-3686 or go online now.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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