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 your child's story, such as witness statements from people who know your child and their relevant school history (e.g., teachers, counselors).
- If your child experiences an emergency placement with no time for a hearing, you should be able to request this hearing after the fact.
Options After Your Student is Placed in an AEDY
- If your child has already been placed in an AEDY, your child and their educational team (including you) must come up with a clear list of goals they can achieve prior to placing back in their school. If this discussion arises, you need to make sure that your student defense attorney is involved.
- If your student experiences anything outside of the norm or anything that goes against their right to an appropriate education while in their AEDY program, note that immediately. For example, if your child receives fewer than 20 hours of instruction a week or if your student doesn't have access to counseling, you may be able to use that as grounds that your AEDY program is not sufficient for your child's educational experience. Your attorney will be able to give you a more specific list of things to watch out for.
Filing a Complaint About Your Child's Placement in a PA AEDY Program
If you believe that your child's disciplinary placement was unwarranted, you and your attorney may be able to kickstart your child's defense strategy by challenging that decision.
You should be able to do this by filing a complaint with either the AEDY program itself or the school that is threatening to send your child away. After you have filed that complaint, consider following it up with a complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. (This is also a good step to take if your school or the AEDY program in your case doesn't have a satisfactory complaint process.)
Completing these steps is a good idea even if you're not confident that they will actually provide a resolution, as they will help show your school that you're serious and could provide the basis for a lawsuit if that type of action is in your future. For now, see if your defense lawyer can speak one-on-one with your school's general counsel to see whether that can produce your hoped-for outcome. If that is not the case, your defense lawyer will be able to help you determine effective next steps.
Why Should I Be Worried About an Alternative Education Program in PA?
If your school has elected to send your child to alternative education because of their allegedly disruptive actions, you may — at first — not be worried.
After all, many means of alternative education have become increasingly popular in the wake of the pandemic. On the surface, your student's alternative education plan may not even seem that different from your original plans.
There are several reasons that PA alternative education programs for disciplinary purposes may cause issues for your student — both now and later. We'll discuss more of the long-term consequences in a later section, but we'll take time to review some of the more immediate ramifications right now.
If your student faces disciplinary alternative education in Pennsylvania, they might expect to experience:
- A lower standard of education. As the focus of an alternative education program may be on reforming a student's behaviors or keeping disruptive students away from other academic communities, there may necessarily be less time, resources, and attention available to ensure that the quality of the education is as top-tier as possible.
- A considerable disruption to their familiar routine. Your student may have to go to a different location on a daily basis to attend their new classes, and that location may be a long way away from your home. As a result, your student — and your entire family — may have to recalibrate their daily routine. Once a student gets to their new school, they may have to relearn all kinds of practices and processes — from the way they submit assignments to the way they engage with their new community. All of this will take a lot of time and energy on top of their normal high school studies.
- A stigma associated with their misconduct. Generally, schools reserve disciplinary placement for severe forms of misconduct. However, if your student is associated with repeated forms of less severe misconduct (e.g., classroom disruption) or if the allegations against your student were a misunderstanding or mistake, they may be headed to an educational program that may place an outsized emphasis on their alleged “crimes.” Regardless of what your student has or has not done, being sent to disciplinary alternative education does not give them the clean slate they need to bounce back. Rather, it may associate your student with an unfair stigma that could follow them for the rest of their life.
- There's a high likelihood that your student will get sent back to alternative education. If your child does manage to work their way back into their school's good graces and returns to their previous status as a full-time student, great — but you should know that the next time your student is associated with misconduct (earned or not!), your school will be likely to send them back to the alternative education program.
Now that you're more aware of some of the short-term consequences associated with alternative education, let's talk about what you might be able to do to help your student in this situation.
Read This if Your Child Faces Disciplinary Issues at Their PA School
If there's one thing you need to know about PA disciplinary placements, it's this:
These types of processes can get very serious extremely quickly. One day, you're hearing whispers that your student's being called to the principal's office; the next, you're looking at a notification from your school that your student is considered too “disruptive” and needs to attend an alternative educational program.
When you find that your child's associated with a disciplinary issue that could end up in alternative educational placement, consider these steps to be as prepared as possible:
- Call your school. Even if you think you have a good idea of what's happening from what your child has told you and the various notes you've received, you need to get the latest information from a representative in your school's administration. Write down everything they say, including their take on the next steps and the discipline your student may be facing.
- Call a student defense attorney. Once you know what's happening from your school, immediately call a lawyer. This may feel like an overreaction, particularly if someone from the school has just assured you that there's no reason to worry. Remember, these situations can accelerate very quickly. Having a lawyer who's briefed and ready to act can make a huge difference in these types of cases.
- Ask your child what happened. If they've already given you bits and pieces of the case, sit down with them and ask for the whole story, from start to finish. Then, ask your child if anything else has been making them uncomfortable at school recently. Write down everything they're able to tell you.
- Start a log of evidence you find, conversations you have, and anything else that seems relevant or regards your student's impending disciplinary placement. Save emails and pictures of social media posts to a folder on your computer desktop; get a notebook to record the length, date, and main points of any phone calls you have with your school; and save all pieces of physical mail your school sends you.
- Finally, download a copy of your PA high school's code of conduct, then ask your student defense attorney to go through it with you. This document will be complex and difficult to understand, but it should contain the basic information you and your attorney will need in order to proceed.
Doing this kind of due diligence may seem like it is unnecessary but preparing yourself to help your student can be one of the most productive things you can do during this stressful time.
Wondering what you may be able to help your student avoid in the long run? We'll touch on the long-term ramifications of your student's potential disciplinary placement next.
What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Disciplinary Placement in PA?
Although we've briefly touched on the short-term experience that your student may be facing, it's time to spell out the real consequences you're working to help your student avoid.
Having a referral to disciplinary alternative education on your student's permanent record is a red flag that any future college admissions boards won't fail to notice. Even after that, if your student is trying to get a game-changing internship or start their career with the perfect position, the people offering those opportunities will not look kindly at disciplinary alternative education in your student's past.
What's more, they very likely won't take the time to learn more. This means that even if your student's innocent, or the disciplinary referral was the result of a mistake or a misunderstanding, or even if your student graduates from the disciplinary alternative program with high marks and their head held high — it wouldn't matter. The damage is done. Your student's reputation will simply make it much harder for them to enjoy the future your entire family has worked hard to achieve.
If your school seems like it's about to suspend, expel, or place your student in alternative education, you may wonder what's next? Working with a student defense attorney is the best possible thing you can do for your child's future.
Pennsylvania High School Disciplinary Placement Attorney
Is your child facing a high school disciplinary placement? That can be a big deal — with consequences that start immediately and could last years into the future.
Navigating the complexities of that placement and any associated high school adjudication can be a nightmare. Your school's disciplinary procedures are confusing and dealing with the stress of your child's situation will take its toll. You need to make sure that you aren't doing this on your own.
You need to make sure that Joseph D. Lento is on your side.
Joseph D. Lento is an attorney with years of experience helping students across the nation reach favorable outcomes after disciplinary processes. He can help your student come up with a strong defense, draft arguments in their favor, and help you prepare effectively for tough conversations with your school board.
If you're interested in making sure that one mistake doesn't ruin your child's future, give our firm a call. We can be reached online or at 888-535-3686.