Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Rhode Island High School System

Educational institutions set up disciplinary action as a means to correct misbehavior, place students on a path toward success, and protect others in the learning environment. However, remedial pathways can thwart prospective gains and cause counterintuitive consequences that lead adolescents to academic demise. Unfortunately, even honest, hard-working students can have their attempts to obtain a diploma dashed by the most minor instances of misconduct.

Parents may think the sanctions levied by their child's school disciplinary board are straightforward. However, the culture within schools has shifted from addressing misconduct with extra assignments, firm lectures, and a phone call home from the principal. Many schools now approach disruptions and rule-breaking with zero-tolerance policies that quickly lead to a separation from studies, including:

  • Suspension
  • Expulsion
  • Alternative education placement

Schools face pressure from the public and government funding schemes that lead them to choose dollars over pupil discipleship. At a time when young students need positive-minded assistance when they misstep between graduation obligations, they face relegation to an unconventional educational placement as a disciplinary measure.

When your child is threatened with harsh consequences for uncorroborated misconduct, unfair treatment can categorize them as perennial offenders. Considering the immense repercussions, it's imperative that you understand how school districts handle misconduct and how it can be the beginning of your child's academic downfall.

Avoiding Alternative Education Placement in Rhode Island

Suspensions and expulsions aren't the only disciplinary measures Rhode Island schools have in their store of corrective action. One option for frequently misbehaved students is to place them in an Alternative Education Program (AEP), also known as an Alternative Learning Plan (ALP). The Rhode Island state legislature's General Laws § 16-21-20 explains that the department governing elementary and secondary education, in conjunction with the attorney general's office, will develop requirements for the alternative placement of suspended students.

While throwing a paper airplane during class and causing disruption may not be a guaranteed way for your child to be sent to an AEP, it can be the foundation toward the eventual end. AEPs are used for repeated behavioral patterns detracting from their own education and those around them. Nevertheless, AEPs are used for infractions involving, but not limited to:

  • Chronic truancy
  • Long-term suspensions
  • Possessing realistic or replica firearms
  • Students suspected of narcotics addictions
  • Threats of physical violence

An AEP is a helpful foundation for some students to turn around their patterns of negative behavior and rejoin their path toward a diploma. For many, though, the behavior that triggered a student's change in placement is often reinforced during their time in an AEP. Additionally, since AEPs are perceived as an out-of-sight, out-of-mind resolution, problems within the programs are not as open to public scrutiny as in traditional centers of learning.

Although AEPs must follow guidelines backed by legislative objectives under the direction of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), they may be prone to:

  • Broad spectrum treatment of students
  • Inadequate instruction methods
  • Lack of resources
  • Outdated curriculums

Placement in a Rhode Island AEP can brand your child a delinquent and force upon them the preconditions for unjust treatment. Furthermore, if you envision your student child attending college to become a doctor, engineer, lawyer, or teacher, an AEP can inhibit their progress. If your child faces a Rhode Island school disciplinary proceeding, act now and call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm. They have defended countless students in "The Ocean State" and across the U.S. from placement in AEPs.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Rhode Island

RIDE provides regulations to Rhode Island primary and secondary school districts to create and maintain a student discipline code, which is also referred to as:

  • Code of conduct
  • Honor code
  • Student Handbook

The purpose of the student discipline code is to foster a positive environment that promotes learning, as stated by the Rhode Island General Laws § 16-21-21. These written rules outline how students, faculty, and staff behave on campus and during school-sponsored events. The code also includes the numerous academic thresholds students must meet at a pre-determined rate to fulfill their obligations to graduate with a diploma. Each school committee must distribute the student discipline code to each student enrolled in the district, typically upon matriculation or grade advancement. Each student and their parent, guardian, or custodian must sign a statement verifying that they have been given a copy of the student discipline code of their respective school district.

The student discipline code is a parent's first line of defense in disciplinary matters. Rhode Island institutions cannot punish wrongdoing arbitrarily. There must be a corresponding consequence to the alleged misconduct. Although each school district may vary slightly in what it includes in its student discipline code, some ubiquitous prohibitions are:

  • Academic dishonesty (cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration)
  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Classroom disruptions (persistent nuisances affecting the teacher or classroom at-large)
  • Computer and school online network misuse
  • Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
  • Title IX offenses (sexual assault, gender discrimination, harassment)
  • Theft
  • Truancy
  • Vandalism
  • Weapons, firearms, or replicas on school property

Although the student discipline code supports a straightforward process in identifying and addressing misconduct, some violations can be handled on a case-by-case basis. Because of this, not only is the alleged misconduct punished, but so is the student's past record. Therefore, disciplinary boards may hand out excessive punishments due to bias or a conflict of interest. Administrators can even impose penalties without understanding how or why they could have occurred.

Given the turbulent times of adolescence, there are frequently extenuating circumstances that lead students astray. At a time when they need improvement through positive reinforcement and a holistic approach to recurrent behavior, there is a significant chance a student will be sent to an AEP.

Relocating students away from their usual learning environment with familiar peers isn't an effective reform tactic to rehabilitate a student in need. Fortunately, your student defense advisor can represent your child as an individual, not just as a number or file within the educational system. Joseph D. Lento can effectively support claims of extenuating circumstances that affected your child. However, a school may move to remove your child from the classroom without your knowledge.

Emergency Removals in Rhode Island Schools

The Rhode Island Code of Regulations (RICR) § 200-RICR-20-30-2.4 states that in a situation wherein "non-physical interventions would not be effective," an emergency removal may be conducted. The code details that restraint and intervention may be used when a student's behavior poses a "threat of imminent, serious, physical harm" to themselves or others.

However, limitations are placed on their use, and they may not be used in the following situations:

  • As a means of punishment
  • As a denial of adequate sleep, food, water, shelter, bedding, or access to bathroom facilities
  • To subject the individual to verbal abuse, ridicule or humiliation, physical pain, or which can be expected to cause excessive emotional trauma

The use of an emergency safety intervention must stop upon the cessation of the immediate danger of physical harm. Any school staff member involved in the intervention must inform the administration immediately and by a written report no later than the next business day. Yet the school administration is given two school days before it must disclose to the parent, guardian, or custodian the use of the intervention.

Process for AEP Placement in Rhode Island

Whether the situation involving misconduct was an emergency or not, a student cannot be suspended for more than ten days during any given school year. Any time a student experiences separation from studies through seclusion, long-term suspension, or expulsion, the school administration may seek to place them in an AEP. This may also be used if the student is chronically truant.

RICR § 200-RICR-20-10-1-1.4 states that the Local Education Agency (LEA) will address the situation through an interim AEP to continue a student's education while suspended or experiencing other disciplinary action that keeps them out of the traditional environment. One item a student and their parent, guardian, or custodian will experience is a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR).

An MDR determines whether a student's punished behavior was caused by the school's failure to implement the student's Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan supported under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If the student does not have a named disability, the review may unearth such, and subsequent actions will be taken to provide the student with an IEP.

In Rhode Island, the LEA—sometimes an IEP or MDR Team—will conduct a meeting that includes the student, their parent, guardian, or custodian, staff, and faculty members familiar with the student, and the district's special education staff. The review will consider all information to understand the possible connection between the patterns of misconduct or an emergency situation with a disability or lack of proper IEP assistance. Suppose your child has regular contact with behavioral counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, or other healthcare professionals. In that case, you will want them to be present at the MDR, so your child is appropriately represented. Some official disabilities that may warrant the creation of an IEP include, but are not limited to:

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

If the LEA decides that the misconduct under review was caused by a student's disability or because the school failed to implement the student's IEP, the student may return to school immediately after a plan has been created. If the LEA reveals the school followed the student's IEP or a disability is not uncovered, the student will be remanded to an AEP.

Any child with a disability whose placement is changed will continue to receive the following:

  • Assistance in progressing toward meeting the goals in the student's IEP
  • Behavioral intervention services
  • Educational services aligned with the general education curriculum
  • Functional behavioral assessments

Challenging the MDR Process and Rhode Island LEA's Assessments

Parents of students relocated to AEPs have options to fight back against unfair discipline. When parents seek to challenge the LEA's findings, RIDE details four ways they may resolve special education disputes at the local level. They are as follows:

  • Informal resolution of disputes
  • Mediation
  • Written special education state complaints
  • Impartial due process hearing

While many disputes can be handled informally, some parents must take the case to RIDE to resolve the issue. During a due process hearing, parents and LEA representatives will address the dispute through a formal presentation of testimony, evidence, and be given a formal written decision from an impartial hearing officer. The hearing request based on a due process complaint must allege a violation that occurred not more than two years before the date the complainant knew or should have known about the alleged action.

If the LEA has not resolved the complaint to the parent's satisfaction within 30 calendar days of receiving the due process complaint, the hearing may proceed. Parents will be afforded the following rights for due process hearings:

  • Ability to present evidence
  • Access to individuals with special education training and knowledge
  • Advisor assistance by legal counsel
  • Authorization to cross-examine witnesses and LEA representatives
  • Prohibit the introduction of any evidence not disclosed at least five business days before the hearing (two days for expedited hearings)
  • Obtain a written or electronic record of the hearing

Due process hearings must be resolved with the hearing officer's final decision within 45 calendar days following the 30-day resolution period.

How An AEP Can Negatively Impact Your Child

Getting placed in an AEP can enormously impact a child's future. Although they are branded as constructive remedial tools, they often adversely affect students. Placement in an AEP may:

  • Halt academic progress or cause regression
  • Generate additional behavioral problems
  • Lead students to drop out of school
  • Promote truancy

Even when your student child returns to school after a change in placement, they may be detached from friends and teachers, causing emotional distress. Even when your child has dealt with their consequences, they will suffer further duress because of such discipline's unintended yet apparent effects. Considering the harsh sanctions that will remain on the student's record, there is a significant possibility they will be classified as a perennial offender when attempting to enroll in college or secure a job after graduation.

If your child faces placement in an AEP, you must become involved to prevent these counterproductive consequences. Their future depends on it.

Protecting Your Child from a Rhode Island AEP

Parents have a better chance of preventing their children from being remanded to an AEP if they stay active and remain engaged during the disciplinary process. When you become aware of an issue, it's critical to do the following:

  1. Contact the school administration immediately and directly to understand what they know about the alleged situation and how they addressed it. Transcribing as much information as possible from the beginning is essential.
  2. Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento. He and his team at the Lento Law Firm can begin working with you on a strategy to help your child.
  3. Speak with your child about the incident and help them to write down what they remember, including interactions with students, teachers, and staff.
  4. Gather evidence pertinent to the situation. This includes emails, photos, text messages, social media posts, and transcriptions from meetings with school administration officials and LEA representatives.
  5. Refer to the school's student discipline code for more information on how the disciplinary process may proceed.
  6. Record your contacts—written or verbal—with school officials and anyone else regarding your child's situation. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.

It's vital to consult with a student defense advisor early in the process. Removal from school to an AEP is often the beginning of a student's downfall, and they need as much help as possible.

How an Experienced Student Defense Advisor Can Help You

When your student child faces placement in a Rhode Island AEP, you may believe it's not too important to act quickly. There are various limitations on punitive actions, and AEPs will give students the same level of education as their original school, right? You may also believe that school officials, LEA representatives, and the administration aren't law enforcement authorities, so you can't benefit from professional representation. Although it may be comforting to think that way, common misconceptions can lead to long-lasting negative consequences.

The rules governing school discipline and how local school boards can uproot students from traditional settings in Rhode Island are complex. You need a proven student defense advisor that takes the time to understand Rhode Island's laws, RIDE regulations, the MDR process, IEP implications, and due process hearings and apply them to your child's specific condition and give them relief. When your child's future is on the line, there's no reason to fight for your child's future without expert help.

How Student Defense Advisor Joseph D. Lento Can Keep Your Child Out of an AEP

When an AEP is a possible remedial course of action, it's common for inexperienced attorneys to begin their defense by threatening arduous, expensive lawsuits against the school administration or local school board. Even though a formal suit is a possible means to keep your child out of an AEP, litigation is rarely necessary. Additionally, lawsuits can make the situation much more stressful for the student and their parent, guardian, or custodian.

Attorneys may also peddle their performance by arguing before judges or in front of juries to sway you to retain them. However, school disciplinary meetings are not a court of law. The skills used to arbitrate in the courtroom are decidedly different than those needed in meetings with school administration officials and LEA representatives and fail to materialize into the negotiation tactics needed to resolve student disciplinary matters.

Few have proven themselves successful student defense advisors like Joseph D. Lento. Over the years, he has developed beneficial relationships with countless members of schools' Office of General Counsel (OGC) in districts across the state of Rhode Island and the nation. This allows worried parents to settle suspensions, expulsions, or relocations to an AEP before formal proceedings begin. Even if a school prohibits professional representation in their grievance processes, he can coach your child on how to behave during the hearing, provide a strong defense for themselves, and give parents everything they need to know about the appeals process and further avenues of relief.

A professional specializing in student discipline defense can help you make sense of school disciplinary policy to know what rights your child is afforded in disciplinary matters. A student defense advisor can also read the student discipline for your child's district and ensure administrators follow procedures correctly. He will guarantee you're kept abreast of the timeframes for notices of hearings, the investigation process, and how to appeal. Frequently, institutions with zero-tolerance policies overreact in their judgment to satisfy public opinion and retain government funding sources. With an experienced defense advisor, you'll learn that effective representation can end the situation quickly. It can lead to school administration officials handling cases individually with the student's best interests in mind.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted countless students in Rhode Island in disciplinary matters. 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.

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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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