Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Georgia High School System

When you are a parent, you have high hopes and expectations for your child. You have been dreaming about their future since before they were born, so when they get in trouble in high school, and you learn they may be placed in an alternative education program (AEP), you may feel like that dream has been squashed. So many kids make mistakes in high school. We don't expect students to be perfect, but when they get caught in a bad situation, they might be referred to an AEP, which can have long-lasting ramifications for your student. These consequences include slowing your child's academic progress, lowering their self-esteem and confidence, and potentially pushing them down a path of more destructive behavior.

Working with an attorney-advisor will ensure your child's mistake does not cost them their future.

Avoid Disciplinary Alternative Education Placement

If your child is accused of disobeying the administration or faculty at their Georgia high school, they could receive anything from a written warning to a suspension or expulsion. The punishment they receive should fit the severity of the alleged behavior. Sometimes, though, the punishment is much harsher than the behavior. For instance, if a Georgia high school student is found to disregard the conduct rules, either multiple times or once in a big way, they may be referred to an AEP.

Unfortunately, AEPs are not what they are cracked up to be. The term “alternative” makes it sound like an AEP is a choice – students who learn or behave differently can choose to exit the current education track for an alternative. Students who are referred to AEPs have their entire lives turned upside down. In fact, some students may begin experiencing even more behavioral issues caused by the low self-esteem and identity confusion that going to an AEP can have. Additionally, AEPs have their own issues, including a less than stellar curriculum and lower-rated educators.

The reality is you do not want your child sent to an AEP school without a fight. But when they are brought before a disciplinary proceeding, an AEP is a potential punishment. To help explain the AEP process a bit more, we have organized the following resource. The best thing you can do, though, is reach out to an attorney-advisor straight away. Attorney-advisors understand these proceedings and how to ensure your child has every chance of graduating from his school with his classmates and friends. Don't let your child's dreams, or your dreams for your child, be unjustly ruined by an AEP. Call our offices today.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Georgia

Schools in Georgia are responsible for not only educating the youth, but for preparing them for acceptable behaviors as they enter society. To do this, they have identified what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Now while the specific language varies from school to school, the basis is the same. Generally, the code of conduct is delivered to parents and students via the student handbook, which is handed out at the beginning of each school year.

Georgia expects the schools to create effective codes of conduct that establish the students' expected behavior, encourages parents to support their students, and is written in easy-to-understand terms. The code of conduct must contain stipulations for:

  • Disciplinary matters – like violence or assault
  • Title IX or other forms of sexual misconduct
  • Academic misconduct – like cheating or plagiarism
  • Disability accommodations
  • Consequences for unacceptable behaviors
  • Consequences matching the severity of the behavior
  • Destructive behavior
  • Students who bring weapons to school
  • Cyberbullying
  • Theft or vandalism
  • Misusing computers

As stated above, the code of conduct will list the exact consequences that can happen if a student behaves in an inappropriate way. Your attorney-advisor will be able to use this code of conduct to ensure your child is not subjected to unnecessary consequences. Usually, the consequences include:

  • Losing classroom privileges or having to do extra work
  • Signing a behavior contract to ensure the student and their parents understand the behavior that occurred
  • Detention or Saturday school
  • In-school suspension, where a student is removed from the classroom and made to do assignments in another room with other students on in-school suspension
  • Being excluded from class and reassigned to another student
  • Community service
  • Out-of-school suspension
  • Removal to an AEP
  • Expulsion from the school district

At some schools, like the ones in Cobb County, Georgia, students will only be removed to an AEP if the student's behavior is categorized as disturbingly high on a specific scale. In Cobb County, student behavior has been above a level 3 in order to warrant removal to an AEP.

Emergency Removal in Georgia Schools

In Georgia, schools are able to remove students from their classrooms in emergency situations. This also allows them to place students into an AEP without the findings of a school board tribunal if the student is substantially disrupting the systematic processes of the classroom consistently or in a severe way. Acts that meet this level of disruption include:

  • Terrorist threats
  • Gang-related activities
  • Walk-outs
  • Sit-downs
  • Rioting
  • Picketing
  • Trespassing
  • Inciting disruption
  • Threatening the school
  • Pranks or actual violence that occur during a disruption

The Georgia School Discipline Laws and Regulations

In this section, we will discuss the Department of Education's Compilation of Georgia School Discipline Laws and Regulations. This document is a compilation of school discipline-related laws and regulations, covering how to ensure a school is safe and what discipline is appropriate in Georgia schools.

The Mission of Georgia Public Schools

The primary mission of Georgia public schools is to provide students with the tools to pursue academic, professional, and personal goals by providing them with access to experiences that will build literacy, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. An alternative education program is meant to help students stay in school even when dealing with disciplinary issues and to keep public schools safe for all students.

What Is Alternative Education Program in Georgia?

An alternative education program (AEP) that is meant to help students struggling in a traditional classroom, or misbehaving, excel in another setting. Each district will design its own AEP program. An AEP is meant to be a temporary educational setting for students to work on their behavior instead of suspending or expelling the student. Once the AEP period is over, students should be able to return to their normally assigned classrooms. If a student is not showing signs that they are ready to return to their normally assigned classrooms, the initial period could be extended.

Alternative Education Program Requirements

While each school district differs on what their AEP looks like, to be valid, all districts must ensure their AEP meets the following requirements:

  • The AEP must be offered in a setting other than the student's regular classroom
  • It can be located on or off school grounds
  • It provides disruptive students with separation from other non-disruptive students who are also assigned to the program
  • Focuses on English language arts, math, science, social studies, and self-discipline
  • Meets students' education and behavioral needs
  • Provides counseling
  • Provides supervision

The AEP should also only employ certified teachers, as uncertified teachers could cause more academic harm to the student than good.

Limits on Sending a Student to an Alternative Education Program in Georgia

Georgia schools are only supposed to send students to AEPs for extreme offenses that would lead to at least ten days or more of suspension. Therefore, they should not be referring students for minor offenses. In fact, an AEP should be reserved for when all other avenues have been exhausted. An attorney-advisor will figure out what the particular limits are to ensure that your child is not unjustly sent to an AEP.

Before school administrators can send your student to an AEP, the principal must notify you within one day of taking disciplinary action or referring your child to an AEP. If your student's AEP assignment is supposed to last more than ten days, you have the right to a disciplinary hearing. During this hearing, the student must be informed of the reason for the transfer to an AEP and have a chance to defend themselves. If the hearing ends up in an AEP placement, you have 20 days to appeal it to the local board of education.

It is important to stay on top of AEP proceedings because some schools will disregard your child's due process rights and not even realize they are doing it.

Appeal to the Rescue

If your child is found responsible for their alleged misconduct and is being removed to an AEP, don't give up. You still have the right to appeal the disciplinary decision. Appeals are incredibly important to pursue as they are your last chance to prove your child does not need to suffer through an AEP. But if the prospect of filing an appeal feels overwhelming after all the time you put into their defense, an attorney-advisor can help.

This is also true if the school decides that an appeal is inappropriate. An attorney-advisor will research other routes for your child's punishment to be reviewed by the school district.

Statutory Grounds for Expulsion

The Georgia School Discipline Laws and Regulations states that a school can expel or place a student in an alternative education program if they have behaved in any of the following ways:

  • Committing acts of violence against a teacher, bus driver, or other school official or employee
  • Bringing a weapon to school
  • Being convicted of or found to have committed a felony or delinquent act under Code Sections 15-11602 and 15-11-707
  • Sexual offenses

Students who have committed one of the above acts, may have to stay in an AEP longer than the minimum ten days. Some may even have to stay through their graduation. An attorney-advisor can ensure your student is not sent to an AEP for longer than necessary, even if they did commit one of these actions.

Who Goes to Alternative Education Programs?

In Georgia, students in kindergarten through twelfth grade are eligible for an AEP placement. Though usually, high school students are the ones attending these programs.

The Downsides of Alternative Education Programs in Georgia

There are several downsides to removing a student from their regular school setting and sending them to an AEP. In fact, some administrators wonder if the AEP movement is even effective.

Substandard Quality of Education

First, though the state maintains that students are to receive the same level of education in an AEP as regular schools, many fear that AEPs have less than stellar instructors. Without proper educators, students are unable to learn at the same level as regular students. If students are allowed to slip behind during AEPs because of the lower quality of instructor, it is unlikely they will ever catch up when they are allowed back into their regular classroom.

Attendance Issues

Depending on where the AEP is located in the county, students may have less access to reliable transportation, making attendance hard to achieve. When a student's attendance decreases, so does their education.

Criminalizing Misconduct

Students can be sent to AEPs for a number of reasons, and not only because of criminal behavior. Excluding students from their normal environment in such a way encourages them to believe they are truly criminals. When their self-esteem drops like this, it can be hard for them to maintain their grades to fulfill the requirements of the AEP – which could lead to longer stints in the program.

Discipline is Unfair

Across the country, black and Hispanic students tend to be disproportionately punished for their behavior in school. Thus, more black and Hispanic students find themselves in alternative education programs in Georgia. And according to an Open Society Foundation study from 2011, they were sent to AEPs even if they had qualified for special education programs.

Repeat Alternative Education Programs Sessions

The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) found that once a student is sent for an AEP session, they will be sent again. In fact, one out of three students will be sent multiple times a year. Even going once is enough to push a student behind the rest of their class but going back multiple times a year would mean potentially having to repeat the entire school year.

High Dropout Rates

Students who are sent to AEPs have a higher risk of dropping out of high school altogether, according to IDRA. This may be because of the progress that is stalled when attending an AEP but could also be from the social stigma associated with the AEPs. For instance, a child who is forced to complete an AEP after misbehaving may be ridiculed when they come back to the classroom, retreating inwardly even more, or having other disciplinary issues stem from this one incident. That student is more likely to drop out of high school if they feel like they are misunderstood by their teachers and peers.

Contact With the Juvenile Justice System

Discipline like this can have negative effects on children. The Open Society Foundation we mentioned above found that expelled or suspended students had a higher likelihood of getting involved in the juvenile justice system. Not only does an AEP slow a child's academic progress, but it can also lead to more behavior problems. It forces an isolation from friends and teachers and can cause mental health issues later on in life, which will further impact their academic progress. If your child is facing an AEP removal, you should try and overturn it to avoid negative outcomes.

What to Do if Your Child is Involved in a Disciplinary Issue at Their Georgia School

If your child is in a disciplinary issue at their Georgia school, it is important to act quickly. With all luck, the principal will notify you immediately of the incident. But if they don't, and you learn of it through the teacher, another parent, or your child, there are particular steps you should take to ensure your child is not subjected to any unnecessary disruptions.

  1. Contact the school as soon as you learn of the incident. Get as much information as you can, and make sure you write it all down.
  2. Contact an attorney-advisor who will start working on your case the moment you contact them.
  3. Discuss the incident with your child and ask them to write down exactly what happened as they remember it.
  4. If your child was hurt during the incident, take photos.
  5. Record every conversation you have with school officials, teachers, or any other relevant individual. Make sure you get the dates, times, and lengths of the conversation on the record.
  6. Save all your communication about the incident and make copies for your attorney-advisor.
  7. Review the code of conduct from the school to see if the school followed its own procedures.

It is important to speak to an attorney-advisor as soon as you learn of the issue. The school may attempt to punish your child without notifying you of your ability to present your child's side of the story. An attorney-advisor will make sure the school follows their own policies to the letter and doesn't allow them to take any shortcuts that could hurt your child in the long run.

Your Child's Future Is at Stake

If you have been notified of an AEP hearing for your child, you might think you can handle the proceeding on your own. But the reality is that these proceedings are extremely nuanced, and one misstep could mean the difference between an AEP, full expulsion, or long-term detention.

The reality is, if you don't fully understand the Georgia laws around discipline in the school system, it can be incredibly hard to advocate for your child effectively. An attorney-advisor has the unique perspective of an attorney and a professional advocate for students. They will know what to look for, what evidence to present, and what witness testimony to share to guarantee you the best possible outcome for your case.

Don't gamble with your child's future. Let Lento Law Firm support you during this fight.

How a Student Defense Attorney Can Help Your Child Avoid Alternative Education Program Placement

If your student is being punished with an AEP, an attorney-advisor can help you negotiate with school administrators by helping you present your child's case in a way that shows this exclusionary punishment should be placed aside. There are some cases where an attorney-advisor is not allowed to be present. In cases like this, your attorney-advisor can coach you on how to present your evidence and testimony in a way that truly explains your child's side of the experience. Additionally, attorney-advisors are representatives of the justice system. They understand how to read through codes of conduct and ensure the school district is acting appropriately.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of students across the country with disciplinary matters, giving them solid defenses to better protect their due process rights. They have the skill and experience to help you navigate these proceedings. Mistakes should not ruin your child's life. Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation.

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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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