Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the North Carolina High School System

As a parent, you believe your child has a bright future. You expect them to graduate, attend college, find a great job, and have a fulfilling life. What you don't expect is for them to get into trouble and be placed in an alternative learning program (ALPS). Many kids make mistakes in high school, but when some get caught, they might be referred to an ALPS. ALPS can have long-lasting consequences for your child, including stalling their child's academic progress, lowering their self-worth, and possibly encouraging them to follow a path of further destructive behavior and obstinance. Hiring an attorney-advisor is the best way to guarantee your child's future is protected. Call our offices today.

Avoid Disciplinary Alternative Learning Programs

In North Carolina, if your child is accused of violating their school's code of conduct, or of disobeying a faculty member at their school, they can be punished with anything from a written warning to suspension or expulsion. The penalty they incur is supposed to fit the accused behavior, but sometimes those students are punished with a much harsher reality. For example, if a North Carolina high school student is found responsible for disobeying the conduct rules, whether it is multiple times in their high school career or just once in a huge way, they might be referred to an ALPS.

Sadly, not all ALPS are what they are meant to be. Because they are referred to as “alternative,” some parents think the student has a choice to attend, as if students who behave differently can leave the regular education track and choose to attend one that is more specific to their needs. But in reality, students who are referred to ALPS can have their entire lives flipped upside down. Some students may even have harsher behavioral issues after entering an ALPS because their self-esteem and identity suffers. Moreover, ALPS are not these perfect programs – they have their own problems with curriculum and low-rated educators.

If your child is referred for an ALPS, you should do everything in your power to fight it. An ALPS is a punishment. To help explain the ALPS process a bit more, we organized the following resource. But the best thing you can do is to call an attorney-advisor from the moment you learn that your child is being placed in an ALPS. Attorney-advisors have the unique position of understanding these proceedings on a legal level and can ensure your child has the best chance of graduating from his regular high school. Your child is important and shouldn't be left behind just because they misbehaved. Call our offices today.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in North Carolina

The education system in North Carolina is responsible for educating children and preparing them for how to behave when they enter society. To do so, they have had to identify what appropriate behavior is for a school setting and what is not. While the exact language changes from school to school, the essence of the codes of conduct are the same. Students and parents will be given their school's particular code of conduct at the beginning of the school year, and most schools require the student to sign it before the first week of school ends. This ensures the students actually understand what is expected of them.

North Carolina presumes that the schools will create efficient codes of conduct that show how the students are expected to behave, inspires parents to support their children however they can, and are written in an easy-to-understand format. Additionally, the code of conduct must contain clauses for:

  • Disciplinary matters for things like violence or assault
  • Bullying or harassing behavior
  • Prohibiting tobacco use in school buildings, grounds, and at school-sponsored events
  • Title IX or other types of sexual misconduct
  • Academic misconduct like cheating, plagiarism, or helping others perform academic misconduct
  • Accommodations for disabled students
  • Consequences for disruptive behaviors
  • Consequences that match the students' actions
  • Cyberbullying, theft, or vandalism
  • Students who bring weapons to school
  • Students who misuse computers

These codes of conduct will list the exact ramifications that will happen if a student violates them. Your attorney-advisor will review this code of conduct to make sure your child is not exposed to any unnecessary penalties. Generally, these penalties include:

  • Signing a behavior contract so that the student and parents understand their behavior was inappropriate.
  • Detention
  • Saturday school
  • In-school suspension: a student is removed from their classroom and sent to another room with other students on in-school suspension. During the day, they do assignments from their missed classes or other assignments the school assigns.
  • Out-of-school suspension
  • Being removed from class and sent to another classroom for a time.
  • Community service
  • Removed to an ALPS
  • Expulsion from the school district altogether

In most school districts in North Carolina, students will only be sent to an ALPS if the student has consistently violated the school's rules and all other avenues of punishment were exhausted.

Emergency Removal in North Carolina Schools

Though there is no definitive law about emergency removal of a student to an ALPS in North Carolina, students can be removed in an emergency on a case-by-case basis. This means, essentially, that the student will not have a chance to defend their case before being sent to an ALPS – usually, because their behavior was so egregious, it put the rest of the classroom or school in danger. Possible reasons why a student would face an emergency removal include:

  • Rioting
  • Picketing
  • Trespassing
  • Inciting a disruption
  • Threatening the school
  • Making a terrorist threat
  • Participating in gang-related activities
  • Participating in a walk-out or a sit-in demonstration
  • Using a prank or actual violence during a disruption that could cause further damage

The North Carolina School Discipline Laws and Regulations

In this section, we will discuss the different laws that surround discipline in North Carolina's public education system.

The Mission of North Carolina Public Schools

The main goal of North Carolina's public school system is to empower its students with the tools necessary to be successful citizens and leaders in a global economy. Alternative learning programs and schools are meant to help students stay on track while they are unable to attend their regular classes and to keep the rest of the school safe from their antics.

What Is Alternative Learning Program and Schools in North Carolina?

North Carolina's “alternative learning program and schools” (ALPS) is designed to help struggling, or misbehaving students excel in a different setting. Every district designs its own ALPS so that students find refuge. The duration of an ALPS is meant to be temporary. Instead of being suspended or expelled in the traditional sense, the student is given time to work on their behavior, with the hopes that once the ALPS period ends, the student will be able to return to their normally assigned classes. If they are unable to, the initial ALPS period could be extended.

Alternative Learning Program and Schools Requirements

Each school district will differ in the particulars of what their ALPS will have, but in order for it to be a valid ALPS, according to the state policies and procedures, it must include the following requirements:

  • The administration and teaching staff must have the following skills:
  • Conflict management and resolution
  • Differentiated learning styles
  • Understand diversity and be culturally literate
  • Understand the principles of child development
  • Mastered the North Carolina Standard Course of Study
  • The ALPS is offered outside of the student's regular classes
  • Located on or off campus
  • Within the ALPS, disruptive kids must be separated from non-disruptive kids
  • Provide counseling
  • Try and have small teacher-to-student ratios
  • Push for a high level of student and staff engagement
  • Create a safe and orderly environment that invites learning

Limits on Sending a Student to an Alternative Learning Program and School in North Carolina

North Carolina schools should only send students to an ALPS for offenses that land them with long-term suspensions or expulsions punishments. They should not be referring students for minor offenses like tardiness or talking during class. An ALPS is really supposed to be reserved for times when all other procedures have been exhausted. Working with an attorney-advisor will ensure the particular limits that should prevent your child from attending an ALPS are reviewed.

When the school decides to refer your child to an ALPS, the multi-disciplinary team in their school must notify you of the incident and the possible punishment. You must then be invited to a hearing to state whether you agree or disagree with the proposed sanction. During this meeting, you have the option to present evidence and witnesses that would advocate for your child to be punished in some other way besides an ALPS.

Remember, the school district must give you notice of their intentions before following through with the removal. You have a choice to agree or disagree with their decision. If you disagree, you must follow up on these proceedings to ensure your child's due process rights are protected. Many schools will rush through these proceedings, or not offer them at all, because they assume parents will agree with them.

Appeal to the Rescue

When your child is found responsible for the misconduct they have been accused of and is then referred to an ALPS, do not give up. Even if your hearing does not go well, you still have the right to appeal the school's decision. Appeals are very important to ensure your child does not have to suffer through an ALPS. Additionally, it is important to remember that you can appeal both the local school board's decision, the local board of education, and the superior court if need be. There are plenty of chances to have your student's case heard.

It is important to note that if a student has been suspended for more than 365 days or expelled, they can appeal the decision and request readmission after 180 of those days. An attorney-advisor will be able to determine the best route for your child's appeals.

Statutory Grounds for Expulsion

The North Carolina policies and regulations state that a school can expel or place students in alternative learning programs and schools if they have acted in any of the following ways:

  • Acting violently towards a school employee or bus driver
  • Bringing a weapon to school or using a weapon on school grounds
  • Being convicted of rape, murder, assault, battery, or other violent offenses
  • Sexual misconduct or Title IX violations

If a student is found responsible for committing one of these acts, they may be required to stay in an ALPS for a long period of time. An attorney-advisor will make sure your child is not sent to an ALPS for longer than they should.

Who Goes to Alternative Learning Programs and Schools?

In North Carolina, students can be sent to an ALPS any time between kindergarten and twelfth grade. But usually, students between eighth and eleventh grade are sent to them.

The Downsides of Alternative Learning Programs and Schools in North Carolina

There are a number of negative aspects to having a child removed from their normal classroom settings into an ALPS. Some people even wonder if the ALPS movement might do more harm than good.

Substandard Quality of Education

The North Carolina department of education is adamant that students receive the same level of education, if not a better level of education, in an ALPS as they do in a regular school. But they also point out standards that would make an ALPS less effective. For instance, their mission wouldn't be clearly defined, the students don't have a choice of being referred to the program, and the programs lack access to necessary resources.

If an ALPS does not have proper educators or administrators who care about the effect an ALPS could have on their education, students would be unable to learn at the same level as students in the regular classrooms. If students are sent to ALPS and then end up slipping behind their classmates because of their insufficient education standards, it is unlikely they will ever catch up once they return to their classrooms.

Attendance Issues

Many ALPS in North Carolina are in rural areas of their county, making access to reliable transportation less likely. When this happens, attendance is difficult to achieve and as that decreases, so does the student's access to their education.

Criminalizing Misconduct

While students can be sent to an ALPS for several reasons, some of them being criminal behavior, most of the time, it is for aggressive behavior that normally happens in a high school atmosphere. Taking students out of their regular classrooms and forcing them to participate in an ALPS with students who have committed crimes can make them feel like a criminal. When this happens, their self-worth drops, and it can be hard for them to maintain their grades. If they cannot maintain their grades, they won't be able to fulfill the requirements of the ALPS, potentially causing their programs to last longer than originally intended.

Discipline is Unfair

Unfortunately, throughout the country, black and Hispanic students are disproportionately punished for their behavior. According to an Open Society Foundation study from 2011, black and Hispanic students were sent to ALPS even if they had qualified for special education programs.

Repeat ALPS Sessions

It is likely that if a student is sent for an ALPS session, they will be sent for another soon after. According to the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), one out of three students will be sent to ALPSs multiple times a year. Just attending an ALPS once is enough to cause a student to fall behind their classmates academically, and going back multiple times a year would mean potentially having to repeat the entire school year.

High Dropout Rates

Another statistic from IDRA states that students who are sent to ALPSs are at a higher risk of dropping out of high school altogether. This is probably because their academic progress was slowed while they were attending the ALPS, but it could also be from the social stigmas they have experienced. For example, children who participate in ALPS could be bullied once they return to their normal classroom. They may retreat inward, failing to care about their grades or friendships anymore. Alternatively, they could begin to misbehave even more frequently – causing more disciplinary issues. Students who are constantly in trouble, or are apathetic towards their high school careers, tend to be the ones that drop out the most.

Contact With the Juvenile Justice System

Exclusionary discipline such as an ALPS can have disastrous effects on students. According to the Open Society Foundation (mentioned above), expelled or suspended students have a higher probability of entering the juvenile justice system at some point after their ALPS placement. Not only does an ALPS stall a student's academic progress, but it may also lead to further behavior problems, causing isolation and a host of other mental health issues. These issues will have a further impact on their academic progress, and the cycle will continue. If your child has been referred for an ALPS removal, you must try to have it overturned.

What to Do if your Child is Involved in a Disciplinary Issue at their North Carolina School

It is important to act quickly when you are notified of your child's disciplinary issue. The principal is supposed to notify you of the incident immediately, but sometimes procedures are forgotten, and you may learn of it through a teacher, another parent, or your child. If this happens, you must take the following steps to ensure your child is not forced to participate in an ALPS or have any other unnecessary disruptions to their education.

  1. As soon as you learn of the incident, contact the school. Ask them as many questions about it as you can. Gather as much information as they will divulge, and make sure you write it all down.
  2. Get in touch with an attorney-advisor. They will start working on your child's defense immediately.
  3. Talk to your child and have them write down exactly what happened.
  4. Take photos of your child's wounds if they were hurt during the incident.
  5. Make sure your record or take notes during every conversation you have with the school, its officials, the teachers, or any other person with information about the incident.
  6. Make copies of all of this for your attorney-advisor.
  7. Forward the school's code of conduct to your attorney-advisor.

Your Child's Future Is at Stake

When you learn of your child's ALPS placement hearing, you might try to handle it on your own. But these hearings are incredibly complex, and one wrong or forgotten step could have long-term effects on your child, especially if you don't fully understand the North Carolina regulations that surround discipline in the school system. During this time, you will really want the help of an experienced attorney-advisor to help advocate for your child. Attorney-advisors are professional advocates. They know exactly what evidence and witness testimony to look for to guarantee you the best possible defense for your child.

How a Student Defense Attorney Can Help Your Child Avoid Alternative Learning Programs and Schools Placement

Title IX attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of high school students across the country who have been accused of disciplinary matters and referred for alternative learning placements. They understand how to negotiate with school administrators and present your child's case in a way that proves this type of punishment would be less beneficial to your child. Don't let your school district place your child in an ALPS without a fight. Lento Law Firm can help. 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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