Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Pennsylvania High School System

Your dreams for your child are likely varied and far-flung. You hope that they have a good high school experience, that they're able to achieve their high school diploma, and after that, they're able to get into their college of choice and work towards the career of their dreams.

All of that should be possible for your child. And, to that end, you've probably chosen the high school that they attend very carefully. You've looked at the graduation and college selection statistics. That specific high school is part of your dreams for your child — and, very likely, it's part of their own plan for their future.

What if something were to happen to your child's place at that high school?

What if you were to receive a notification that your school had decided your child needed to go somewhere else?

In Pennsylvania, if a student is associated with severe or repeated behavioral issues at their school, schools have the option to refer them to an alternative education program. You and your child may not feel like you have much say in the matter. Even worse, this may not even seem like a remotely logical choice from your school. Sometimes, these types of disciplinary placements occur after relatively insignificant types of misconduct — or even after allegations of misconduct that are the result of a miscommunication or are even just a mistake.

Even worse: If your child is associated with a recommendation for alternative education for disruptive youth in the state of Pennsylvania, regardless of the truth of the associated allegations, your child's future will be a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

Imagine the tense, exciting interview that your child will undergo in order to get into their first-choice college. Their interviewer will look at their student record, see the disciplinary placement, and (very likely) not ask any further questions. That line on your student's record may have the power to close doors for them that may have otherwise remained open.

You need to do everything in your power to make sure that doesn't happen.

In this helpful piece, we'll go over the details of Pennsylvania's Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth program and what you need to do to make sure your child doesn't end up suffering the short- and long-term consequences associated with this system.

First Things First: Which Student Behaviors Result in a PA Disciplinary Placement?

Before we talk about Pennsylvania's options for disciplinary placements in any detail, it's a good idea to know how a student might end up in an alternative education program.

The idea stems from the fact that every student has the right to an education. This right doesn't go away if a student has persistent behavioral issues (in the eyes of the school) or chronic misconduct allegations to their name.

The existence of alternative education programs means that your school may be able to expel, recommend alternative education, or even suspend your student for a prolonged period of time while knowing that they're not violating their right to an education.

Every school may have a slightly different list of behaviors that could trigger a PA disciplinary placement. State law gives each school the right and responsibility to come up with its own list. Common inclusions in lists of severe problematic behaviors include:

  • Assault of another student
  • Assault of a teacher
  • Bringing a weapon to school
  • Bullying or cyberbullying
  • Using drugs or alcohol on the school's campus
  • Stealing from a teacher, another student, or the school
  • Performing vandalism
  • Persistent rule-breaking

While the punishment associated with these behaviors could be as simple as a suspension, expulsion is not out of the picture, and your school could easily revert to a disciplinary placement ostensibly to keep the rest of the academic community safe from your student, e.g., if they pose a threat.

There is a chance that your PA high school could move the responsibility of meeting a student's right to education to the parents. If this happens, your school may force you to do your own research to find an appropriate online school or to initiate home instruction.

Alternatively, your school may recommend that your student attend an alternative education program for disruptive youth in Pennsylvania, which, even though it may require less work on your part, isn't much better for your student.

What Is Pennsylvania's Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth Program?

This program, sometimes abbreviated as the acronym AEDY, is a separate educational program that serves as a resource for charter schools and school districts in Pennsylvania. Schools can place students in the AEDY program for disciplinary reasons.

Interestingly, the written goal of PA's AEDY program is to transition the student back into their original school environment — preferably within about 45 days. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, and many students experience much longer stays in the AEDY system.

Students can only be placed in AEDY programs that have been formally approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. (You can find an updated list of education programs that meet PDE criteria right here.)

While this might seem like the government has your back, there are several important things to note:

  • AEDY programs are only meant for children in middle and high school. If your child is in elementary school, you may be required to consider even more alternative instructional methods, or your student may be at risk for the ramifications associated with exclusionary discipline.
  • Many AEDY programs are private, and parents may be responsible for the associated costs — which can be a stark difference if your child was originally enrolled in a public or more cost-effective school.
  • Even though the goal of the program is to get the student back to their original school, your original school may or may not be amenable to supporting your student's actual return.

Ultimately, while this educational system may be the state standard for students deemed disruptive, you and your student may still be able to build a strong argument for their right to continue at their original school. Depending on the time you have to work with, your path to your chosen outcome may differ slightly.

Options You May Have Before and After Your Student is Placed in Alternative Education in PA

While your student defense attorney will be the best resource for strategies to pursue in order to protect your student's education and their future, the following processes may already exist to help you work towards the outcome of your choice.

Options Before Your Child is Placed in an AEDY

  • You have the right to a hearing with your school before your student is placed in an AEDY.
  • During this hearing, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate why your student should not undergo a disciplinary placement.
  • You may also be able to fight for your child by demonstrating that the chosen AEDY does not meet state requirements for your child's education.
  • You should be able to bring an attorney to this hearing. You should also be able to provide any other pieces of information that support you