Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Delaware High School System

Delaware parents rely on the state's outstanding education system to instruct their student children through a comprehensive series of assignments, exams, lectures, and group projects. When students fulfill academic obligations and graduate, parents may envision their children becoming business owners, engineers, lawyers, or teachers. Yet, students must adhere to an institution's behavioral guidelines while navigating rigorous curricula.

Schools punish numerous prohibited behaviors for promoting an inclusive learning environment. In their journey toward graduation, students may involuntarily infringe upon these rules. While parents may be under the interpretation that misconduct is handled with the student's best interests in mind, it's a common misconception.

Schools nationwide are implementing zero-tolerance disciplinary policies that protect the institution's reputation in the face of shifting cultural and political winds. Therefore, misconduct that used to be addressed through mediation with school administration officials, extra assignments, and a phone call home from the school principal is now increasingly grounds for the following harsh corrective actions:

  • Emergency removals
  • Seclusion
  • Out-of-school suspensions
  • Expulsions
  • Placement in a Consortium Discipline Alternative Program (CDAP)

If students are subject to one of the above sanctions, it can derail their pathway toward success, whether college or career. Sanctions resulting in a separation from traditional studies can severely hinder a student's pathway toward success. Admissions boards and human resources personnel pay close attention to a candidate's character, carefully analyzing their records. If any separation of studies is disclosed, they will commonly fall to the bottom of the applicant pool.

While schools face immense pressure from the public and federal funding obligations, the severe punishments they levy can cause students to be labeled as delinquents. At a time when students need positive behavioral intervention, the school will choose their future over your child's.

Parents must be aware of what can happen when their child's school hands out misconduct allegations. Even minor violations can threaten honest, hard-working students with removal from the traditional learning environment. Considering the wide-ranging, long-reach consequences, it's essential that you understand how Delaware school districts address misconduct.

Avoiding Alternative Education Placement in Delaware

Although suspensions and expulsions are straightforward, alternative placements aren't as well-known. Delaware Code (DE Code) Title 14 §1604 states that district and charter schools must establish "supportive instruction" measures for at-risk students. The local school district must determine by a preponderance of the evidence that they are deemed appropriate for such change in placement.

Interrupting a teacher's lecture or throwing a paper airplane a single time may not lead the school to remove a student. Still, it may be the origin point for the substantiation of a pattern of misbehavior. The Delaware Administrative Code (DE Admin. Code) Title 14, §611 states that schools can place a student in a CDAP if they:

  • Have expelled the student for a violation of the district's discipline code
  • Determine that the student is suspended for engaging in conduct that could result in expulsion
  • Concluded that the student has exhibited such severe discipline problems that expulsion is imminent
  • Remand students for "chronic and repetitive" disruptions

While CDAPs are a valuable tool to rehabilitate disruptive or at-risk students and remediate negative behavior enough to return to their regular school environment. For example, CDAPs must provide students with assignments and instruction in the alternative program. "Applied learning activities" are pursued to encourage student participation as opposed to "seat-oriented" drill exercises. Nevertheless, all must be aligned with the Delaware State Content Standards.

Students integrated into CDAPs should be on a plan to return to their regular school environment. However, remediation plans may backfire through unintended consequences. The behavior that initiated a student's change in educational placement may be fortified during their time in a program. On the other hand, if a student is sent to a CDAP based on misrepresented evidence of misbehavior, the time in the program may create behavioral problems that were nonexistent beforehand.

Even though CDAPs must follow guidelines backed by legislative directives and under the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) purview, they are not immune from problems. For example, individual CDAPs may be at risk of:

  • Inadequate teaching methods
  • Outdated subject matter
  • Unfair character assessments
  • A lack of supportive resources for students
  • The proliferation of in-house adverse behaviors

Unfortunately, when your child is remanded to a Delaware CDAP, it can brand your child as a troublemaker. This often places them at risk for future unjust treatment from their peers and the school administration. Even when they return to their traditional learning environment, students can sometime fall behind further if the curricula schedule is at a different point compared to the CDAP.

Unsatisfactory personal records will plague a student upon graduation. The consequences can affect them long into their young adult years. If your child faces a placement in a CDAP as a form of corrective action, it's essential that you contact student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Delaware

DE Code Title 14, §1049 gives the school board of each school district the authority to establish educational policies and prescribe rules and regulations for the conduct and management of the institution and the community members therein. The sets of guidelines may be referred to as:

  • Codes of conduct
  • Honor codes
  • Student handbooks

The code must be given to each student, typically upon enrollment or after passing each grade and entering the next. Students and their parents or guardians will also be asked to sign a statement explaining they have received the code. Therefore, ignorance is not a defense when misconduct allegations arise.

Each district's code includes numerous academic thresholds students must meet at a pre-determined rate. For example, minimum cumulative grade point averages, course completion rates, and expected standardized test scores, among others. The code also defines and details unacceptable student behavior. Although each district may differ in what it outlines in its code of conduct, some common prohibitions are:

  • Academic misconduct (cheating, plagiarism, multiple submissions, unauthorized collaboration)
  • Computer and school online network misuse
  • Disruptions to the learning environment
  • Property destruction (theft, vandalism, etc.)
  • Title IX offenses (sexual assault, gender discrimination, harassment)

To address the above conduct violations, the code will also include the policies and procedures the school administration will use in the investigation, hearing, and sanctioning stages. It will also detail the process for student appeal corrective action in certain circumstances. Your first line of defense as a parent is the code. It will tell you what may happen to your student child if they are alleged to have broken the rules and how the school will proceed. However, some infringements may be managed on a case-by-case basis.

School disciplinary boards will consider a student's previous record when levying punishment. In effect, students are threatened with excessive penalties due to bias against them, not to mention possible conflicts of interest if one of the disciplinary board members—a staff or faculty member—was involved in the alleged incident. Moreover, administration officials can seek to remove a student from the property in a forceful manner.

Emergency Removals in Delaware Schools

DE Code Title 11, §468 explains that school officials may remove students by force from the classroom or premises through an emergency intervention. Forcible removals may only be conducted by a "teacher or a person otherwise entrusted with the care or supervision of a child for a special purpose. The use of force, restraint, or seclusion must be "justifiable" when pursued. Only "reasonable and moderate" forcible means may be used in instances to maintain "reasonable discipline in a school, class or other group."

There are limitations on the nature of seclusion or physical restraints, and they must stop upon the termination of the emergency. School districts must have a procedure available by which parents may dispute the use of emergency removals in a local complaint process. Parents or guardians dissatisfied with the result of the local complaint process may file an objection with the DDOE. The state authority will review the results of the local complaint process and may initiate its own investigation within 60 days. The DDOE must develop a corrective action plan if a violation is found. Complaints are limited to those occurring not more than one year prior to the date the DDOE receives the complaint.

Process for CDAP Placement in Delaware

Whether a student was removed from school via an emergency intervention, subject to seclusion, or separated from studies through an out-of-school suspension, a student may not be removed for more than ten days during any school year for any single incident, according to DE Admin Code Title 14, §616. If one scenario leads to such sanctions or is the product of more than one instance, the school may seek to place them in a CDAP.

If recurrent class disruptions are the basis upon which a student is sanctioned, they must have participated in all available school-based intervention programs under DE Admin Code Title 14, §606. If such programs fail to rehabilitate the student, they will be considered for placement in a CDAP if they are in grades 6-12. The program setting shall be apart from the regular school setting. Still, the school building may be used for the programs if the students do not interact with the normal school population or use any school facility simultaneously.

To determine an appropriate plan of action for students, each school district will establish an Alternative Placement Team (APT). The APT—also known as the Individual Education Program (IEP) Team—is staffed with relevant members, including:

  • CDAP staff
  • A district-level coordinator
  • The building-level principal
  • The assistant principal
  • A guidance counselor or school social worker
  • A Department of Services for Children Youth representative with knowledge of the student's and family's needs
  • Student's parents, guardians, or custodians

The ATP will convene to review each case and design an Individual Service Plan (ISP) for each student. An ISP includes:

  • Behavioral goals
  • Educational goals
  • Individual services as needed by students and their families

The ISP may also be referred to as a manifestation determination review (MDR). Pursuant to Section 504 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an MDR or ISP must be conducted to determine whether a student's misconduct was triggered by the school's failure to implement the student's IEP or ISP. Since a disability—whether unknown or diagnosed—will have a bearing on how the APT will proceed with relocation to a CDAP, if your child has regular contact with a doctor, counselor, psychiatrist, or other healthcare professional, they should be present at the meeting.

Some authorized disabilities that may permit the establishment of an IEP or ISP include, but are not limited to:

  • Autism
  • Chronic emotional distress
  • Hearing impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical limitations
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Vision damage

The ATP may determine that a disability caused the student's sanctioned misconduct or that the school district failed to carry out the student's ISP or IEP properly. In that case, the student may return to school with a created or updated individual plan. However, if no disability is discovered or the school's original procedures are adhered to, the student will be relocated to a CDAP.

Challenging the MDR or ISP Process

Parents of students relocated to CDAPs have an opportunity to fight back against unfair discipline. When parents seek to challenge the ATP's findings, they may utilize any of the four options provided by the DDOE.

IEP Meetings: A student's parents or guardians have a right to request an IEP at any time the student is enrolled to discuss their education plan and address any concerns. While they are informal and non-binding, their voluntary nature gives parents an outlet to resolve disputes after a single school-induced IEP was conducted.

Conflict Resolution Program: The DDOE relies on its contract with the Conflict Resolution Program at the University of Delaware for resolutions. Parents and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will be granted two at no cost. IEP Facilitation Resources utilize the role of the facilitator to assist the IEP team members in communicating effectively to reach decisions that are in the student's best interest. Special Education Partnership for the Amicable Resolution of Conflict (SPARC) Mediation Services employ a facilitator to help the parents and LEA representatives solve the issue of the student's IEP or placement in an alternative program. Decisions made through SPARC are legally binding.

State Complaints: Parents who believe LEAs, ATPs, or MDR team members have violated IDEA may file a complaint to the DDOE. DDOE must investigate the complaint within 60 days and issue a decision.

Due Process Complaints: Parents may request an impartial due process hearing regarding a student's education services under the Delaware state law or federal regulations under IDEA. LEAs may also pursue a due process hearing. The three-judge hearing panel must issue a legally-binding decision within 45 days after the 30-day resolution period ends. Due process findings are appealable to the Federal District Court or Delaware State Family Court within 90 days of the decision.

Protecting Your Child from a Delaware CDAP

Placement in a CDAP can immensely impact a student's academic career and future opportunities. There is a significant possibility your student child will be classified as a perennial offender when attempting to enroll in college or secure a job after graduation. Parents have a greater chance of stopping their children from placement in a CDAP if they remain engaged during the process.

When you become aware of a disciplinary issue, it's important to do the following:

  1. Contact the school administration immediately. Transcribe as much information as possible and keep a record of all contacts—written or verbal—with anyone involved in the situation.
  2. Speak with your child about the incident and help them to write down what they remember, including interactions with students, teachers, and staff.
  3. Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento to begin working with you on a strategy to help your child.
  4. Continue to gather relevant evidence, such as emails, photos, text messages, social media posts, and transcriptions.
  5. Consult the school's code of conduct to understand how the disciplinary process may proceed.

Regardless of where you may be in the process, you can always retain professional help. Parents may not be versed in Delaware law, federal regulations, school disciplinary processes, and the ways in which to defend children against burdensome punitive measures. While you may believe getting a lawyer involved is the right plan of action, it may not be the best. Student defense advisors have trained in the areas related to school discipline and the various measures institutions may take to protect their reputations and remand student through out-of-sight, out-of-mind solutions. So, it's essential to understand how an attorney may proceed in defending your child versus a student defense advisor.

How Student Defense Advisor Joseph D. Lento Can Keep Your Child Out of a CDAP

When removal from the traditional learning environment to a CDAP is on the table, it's customary for attorneys to initiate their defense of students by moving forward with expensive lawsuits against the school district. Even though a formal suit can keep your child out of a CDAP, the shock-and-awe tactics of criminal court proceedings are misaligned with what's at stake. Litigation is rarely necessary to keep a student in their everyday school environment. Furthermore, court proceedings can make the situation much more stressful for the student and their parents.

Lawyers may also promote their professional history in arguing before judges or in front of juries to convince you to retain them. It's vital to remember that school disciplinary meetings are not the same as a court of law. The skills used to adjudicate are much different than those required in discussions with school administration officials and ATP team members to facilitate a respectable solution for students.

What parents are their student children need is prompt, private, and negotiated relief. Only a student defense advisor can provide the background to ensure your child's best interests and rights are defended.

Over the years, Joseph D. Lento has developed beneficial relationships with countless members of schools' Office of General Counsel (OGC) in school districts across Delaware and the U.S. Therefore, situations concerning students facing a change in education placement via a CDAP are often resolved before official proceedings begin with a school, ATP, or DDOE. A professional can help you make sense of extensive and sometimes difficult school disciplinary policies to become conscious of what rights your child is afforded in disciplinary matters. They can also ensure that the school administration follows their procedures correctly and doesn't punish your child unfairly.

Frequently, educational institutions with zero-tolerance policies overreact in their judgment to satisfy public opinion and retain government funding sources. With an experienced student defense advisor, you'll discover that effective representation can end the situation quickly—whether between the school administration, OGC, ATP, or DDOE—with the student's best interests in mind.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted Delaware students in countless disciplinary circumstances. The confidence he gives clients allows them to stand up to their school's harsh punitive measures. Protect your student child's rights with a team staffed with the knowledge necessary to support you through challenging situations. Contact the Lento Law Firm today by calling 888-535-3686 or visiting the online consultation form.

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.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.