Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Texas High School System

Small Problems Can Destroy Big Dreams

As a parent, you can't help but have big dreams for your kids. You may envision them as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or scientist. You may want them to go off to college and earn a degree, or you may want them to start their own business. Whatever your dreams for your child are, dreams generally start with your child having a good experience in high school, including earning a high school diploma. Although you might have big plans for your child's future, right now, you first need your child to do well in high school and enjoy a strong high school experience.

Unfortunately, a lot of things can stand in the way of your child earning their high school diploma. Sometimes, kids make mistakes, and they end up in trouble. What teenager doesn't make a few mistakes now and then? Other times, though, good kids get caught in bad situations not entirely of their own making. Schools sometimes blame students for misconduct they didn't commit, lumping them in with ringleader miscreants to assign harsh and unjust penalties for relatively innocent conduct. You don't want a misunderstanding or miscommunication to threaten your child's future, but in some Texas school districts, it can.

Avoid Disciplinary Alternative Education Placement

When your child is accused of misbehaving at their Texas high school, their penalty could be as minor as an extra assignment, or it could be as severe as expulsion. Penalties should depend on the severity of the supposed misconduct but often don't. One popular option that Texas school districts have at their disposal for students whom they accuse of misbehaving is to send them to a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP). For many Texas high schools, DAEP is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind solution.

The problem is that although DAEPs in Texas are supposed to help kids who have misbehaved, DAEP can end up not just feeling like an unjustly harsh punishment but branding your child as a hopeless miscreant. Some students do fine in an alternative high school. But placement in an alternative high school can affect other students very poorly, causing them to take on an unhealthy, failure-marked identity. And the truth is that DAEP schools can have their own problems, including substandard curriculum, instruction, and support services, and bad student culture.

The bottom line is that you very probably do not want your child unjustly diverted to a Texas DAEP school. Yet when your child faces a Texas high school disciplinary proceeding, the risk of DAEP is real and significant. To help you navigate your Texas high school's disciplinary system and learn more about DAEPs, we've compiled this resource explaining the law and process. But the key to ensuring that your child has the best chance to complete the high school diploma with classmates in the regular high school you chose to educate your child is to retain an expert disciplinary defense attorney.

Premier disciplinary defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have successfully defended high school and college students across Texas and the nation. If your child faces a Texas high school disciplinary proceeding, then don't risk DAEP. Don't let an unjust diversion mark your child for failure. Keep your dreams and your child's dreams alive. Retain Attorney Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Texas

Texas high schools don't just discipline as they see fit, in a vacuum. Instead, Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code governs student discipline in Texas high schools. Under Section 37.001, Texas high schools must create their own student codes of conduct specifying the conditions and circumstances under which the school may remove and discipline your child. The high school must also send a copy to each student's parent or guardian at the start of each school year. Parents and guardians then have to sign the code of conduct, confirming they have read and discussed it with their child.

The student code of conduct for your child's school is your first line of defense against unjust school discipline. Your student disciplinary defense attorney will obtain and review that code of conduct to be sure that your school follows it to the letter and does not impose discipline beyond its reach. The code of conduct should list prohibited behavior for students and consequences for committing this behavior. Although each school and district may differ with its code of conduct, some common prohibited behaviors include:

  • Student assault
  • Teacher assault
  • Weapons at school
  • Bullying
  • Cyberbullying
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Computer misuse

In addition to behaviors that are not allowed, the code of conduct will also usually list consequences for students who have committed these behaviors. Once again, your student disciplinary defense attorney can use the student code of conduct to ensure that your child's school doesn't impose consequences beyond its reach. Typically, consequences include:

  • Loss of privileges: Students lose classroom privileges or must complete extra work.
  • Behavior contract: The school establishes regular communication between the student, their parents or guardians, and a school administrator to discuss behavior and set expectations via a behavior contract.
  • Detention: Students must remain after school or show up before school to complete their work.
  • In-school suspension (ISS): Students are removed from their regular classrooms and sent to an ISS classroom to complete assignments for one or more days.
  • Exclusion: Teachers can exclude a student from their class for misbehavior, and the student is reassigned to another teacher.
  • Community service: Students complete service work to either the school or community.
  • Out-of-school suspension (OSS): Students are barred from attending school for a maximum of three days.
  • Removal to a DAEP: Students are temporarily assigned to an alternative education setting, usually between 30-40 days.
  • Tickets: Students may receive tickets that carry a fine for class C misdemeanors. If a student ignores a ticket or doesn't pay, the authorities can issue an arrest warrant when the student turns 17.
  • Expulsion: Students are prohibited from attending their normal school for a certain period of time. In some school districts, expelled students are required to attend a Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP).

Some school districts, like the Houston Independent School District (HISD), categorize misbehavior by levels of severity and administer disciplinary responses that correspond to each level. In HISD, there are five levels, and only levels three through five warrant removal to a DAEP.

Emergency Removals in Texas Schools

Schools are also allowed to do emergency removals from school in certain cases. A school can carry out an emergency DAEP placement only if a student's behavior is so “unruly, disruptive, or abusive that it seriously interferes with a teacher's ability to communicate in class, with students' ability to learn, or in the operation of the school or school-sponsored event.”

Schools can conduct emergency expulsions “only if the principal believes it is necessary to protect persons or property from imminent harm.”

The Texas Education Code & Discipline

In this section, we'll cover the Texas Education Code and what you need to know about public education, safe schools, and discipline in Texas schools. All laws passed by the Texas legislature pertaining to public education are contained in the Texas Education Code. This code covers every aspect of public education in the state, such as the organization of school districts, certification requirements for educators, curriculum requirements, funding, universities, and discipline at schools.

The Mission of Texas Public Schools

According to Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter 4 of the Texas Education Code, the Texas public school system aims to ensure that all children in the state have access to quality education that allows them to achieve their potential now and in the future in social, economic, and education opportunities. One of the main objectives of the public education system is to keep all students in school until they obtain a high school diploma, and another is maintaining safe and disciplined environments on school campuses. The founding of the DAEP program reflects these two objectives, as it attempts to keep children from dropping out of high school completely and ensure all schools are safe for all students.

The relevant section of the Texas Education Code for DAEP and student discipline is Title 2. Public Education, Subtitle G. Safe Schools, Chapter 37. Discipline; Law and Order. This section specifies what DAEPs are and their requirements.

What Is DAEP in Texas?

In 1995, Texas adopted the Safe Schools Act, which mandated that all public school districts provide disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEPs). The purpose of the DAEP is to provide an educational setting for children who have been temporarily removed from regular instruction for disciplinary reasons. Each district may decide on the design and content of its programs.

DAEP is supposed to be an alternative to suspension or expulsion for students in need of behavior management. Students are not supposed to stay in a DAEP indefinitely; the goal is to have them return to their normally assigned classrooms and schools after completing the DAEP. Students may be assigned to a DAEP for 30-40 days; however, the time can be extended if they are not exhibiting signs, they are ready to return to their regular school yet. Initial placement cannot be longer than one year.

DAEP Requirements

Each school district must provide a DAEP that meets the following requirements:

  • Takes place in a setting other than the student's regular classroom
  • Separates students assigned to the DAEP from students who are not assigned to the DAEP
  • Focuses on English language arts, mathematics, science, history, and self-discipline
  • Addresses students' educational and behavioral needs
  • Provides supervision and counseling
  • Employs only certified teachers

The DAEP can take place on or off the school campus, and school districts can provide the same DAEP jointly. The program must also provide training for teachers in behavior management and safety procedures, as well as planning for a student's transition to their regular campus.

Limits on Sending a Student to a DAEP in Texas

Texas schools are not supposed to send students to DAEPs for minor offenses. The HISD Code of Conduct, for example, states that exclusionary disciplinary measures such as suspension, expulsion, and removal to a DAEP should only be considered if all other options are exhausted. These limits can be critical for your student disciplinary defense attorney to ensure that your child's school does not unjustly send your child to DAEP. With appropriate and aggressive advocacy, your student disciplinary defense attorney can use these limits to discourage and prevent your child's school from making an unjustly harsh DAEP.

Texas high schools must also have fair processes in place to give your student disciplinary defense attorney the opportunity to ensure your child's fair treatment. Before school administrators can decide to remove a student to a DAEP, they must hold a conference with the student's parents or guardians, the teacher who removed the student from their classroom (if any), the student, and any other appropriate administrators. At this conference, students have the right to know the reasons for removal and may respond. This notice to you, the parent, ensures that you and your student disciplinary defense attorney can evaluate the discipline charges.

After the conference, a behavior coordinator or other relevant administrator decides whether to send the student to a DAEP. That decision, though, isn't left entirely to the official's discretion. Instead, under Section 37.001(a)(4) of the Texas Education Code, this decision-maker must consider the following factors before placing a student in a DAEP:

  • Whether the student acted in self-defense
  • Intent or lack of intent at the time the student engaged in the conduct
  • The student's disciplinary history
  • Whether the student has a disability that substantially impairs the student's capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the conduct
  • Whether the student is in a protective services conservatorship
  • Whether the student is homeless

These limitations on the decision-maker's discretion can be critical to your child's successful defense. Intent, for instance, can be a huge issue in many discipline cases. If your child innocently committed something that is, in fact, misconduct, such as possessing a weapon, alcohol, or drugs on school grounds, but your child had no knowledge of the prohibited item (another student may have hidden it in your child's backpack or clothing) and thus had no intent, then discipline may be entirely unwarranted.

Although, on the whole, Texas schools are moving away from a zero-tolerance policy, some schools still implement it. Zero-tolerance means that the student is removed from the classroom for misbehavior without accounting for other factors that might have caused it, such as intent, self-defense, or disciplinary history. But those policies go directly against Section 37.001(a)(4) of the Texas Education Code, giving your student disciplinary defense attorney a solid argument for avoiding DAEP for your child. If your child faces a Texas high school disciplinary proceeding that could lead to DAEP, then retain attorney Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now.

Appeal to the Rescue

All is not lost just because your child initially suffers a finding of misconduct and faces DAEP or other harsh discipline. Don't give up if you suddenly hear that your child is headed to DAEP. Many school districts allow students to appeal the decision of the behavior coordinator at their school to the board of trustees. An appeal gives you a second opportunity to retain an expert student disciplinary defense attorney, premier disciplinary defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Lento and his expert team can prepare the strongest possible appeal. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now.

If instead, the decision of the behavior coordinator is final, and no appeal is apparently available, then you still should not give up. Your child's high school or school district will likely have other routes for review if you retain the disciplinary defense attorney who knows how to access those procedures. Your student disciplinary defense attorney may be able to take the matter before the school board through its general counsel, ombudsman, or similar administrative structure, to get the same relief as an appeal. In some cases, litigation in the Texas courts may also be possible and appropriate.

Statutory Grounds for Expulsion

The Texas Education Code, Chapter 37, Section 0081, states that the board of trustees for a school district may expel or place a student in an alternative setting if they have been arrested, convicted, charged, or received deferred prosecution for one of the following felony offenses:

  • Criminal homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Unlawful restraint
  • Smuggling of people
  • Trafficking of persons
  • Sexual offenses
  • Assaultive offenses
  • Aggravated robbery

Some districts require expelled students to attend a JJAEP. Only Texas counties with populations of 125,000 or more are required to have JJAEPs, so not every country has one. For those that don't, a DAEP is another option.

Students removed to an alternative setting must remain in that setting until one of the following occurs:

  • Graduation
  • Felony charges against the student are reduced to misdemeanor charges
  • Completion of the term of placement

Schools are required to place students in either DAEPs or JJAEPs for the reasons listed above. However, they may also remove students to these alternative settings for discretionary reasons. That means that even if a student hasn't been charged with, arrested for, or convicted of a felony, their school can still decide to send them to a DAEP.

When students are facing expulsion in Texas, they are guaranteed their due process rights by federal law since expulsion amounts to deprivation of education. In cases such as Stephens v. Trinity Indep. Sch. Dist., Texas courts have maintained that ISS and DAEPs are alternative placements, however, and not considered a deprivation of education. Therefore, schools do not have to guarantee due process for ISS and DAEPs.

Who Goes to DAEPs?

Alternative placement settings are available for all K-12 students in Texas public schools. Children as young as five or six can be sent to a DAEP for classroom misbehavior, although most students in DAEPs tend to be eighth and ninth graders, according to the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA).

The Downsides of DAEPs in Texas

As you can imagine, removing students from their regular school settings and sending them to a separate program for disciplinary reasons has its downsides. In some ways, the DAEP initiative hasn't worked as intended, and there are concerns about the effects on students.

Substandard Quality of Education

One of the biggest issues with DAEPs has been fears that the instruction students receive in a DAEP isn't up to the same standard as their instruction at their regular schools. The Texas Education Code requires teachers in DAEPs to be certified and provides for assessments of student progress during their time in a DAEP. However, these reforms have rarely led to substantial improvements in the quality of education at DAEPs. As the average length of stay for kids in DAEPs is about two months, it can be almost impossible for them to catch back up to their classmates after this period once they return to their regular schools.

Attendance Issues

Districts that provide alternative settings don't always provide adequate transport options to get students to their DAEPs. As a result, attendance is low, and students' education suffers.

Criminalizing School Misconduct

Students don't have to break the law to get sent to a DAEP, and schools can send them to these alternative settings at their discretion. Students can be removed from their classrooms for typical, school-related misbehavior such as classroom disruption, disorderly conduct, and truancy. Excluding students from their regular educational environment for offenses that could be handled by the school makes students feel like criminals for what is actually school-related misbehavior.

Discipline Is Unfair

A few studies have been carried out concerning DAEPs and alternative placements in the Texas school system. One Open Society Foundation study from 2011 found that African American students and students who qualify for special education were sent to alternative disciplinary programs at a disproportionately high rate.

Repeat DAEP Sessions

Once a student is sent to a DAEP once, they will likely be sent again. The IDRA found that as of 2009, one out of three students had been referred to a DAEP multiple times, usually more than once in a year. Going to a DAEP once is enough to set a student behind academically. Going back multiple times in one year would most likely set their back progress back enough that the student would have to repeat that year.

High Dropout Rates

After students are sent to a DAEP, it is more likely that they will drop out or not finish high school, according to the IDRA. Children in eighth and ninth grades are most often sent to DAEPs, and it's around this age that significant dropout rates start.

Contact With the Juvenile Justice System

Exclusionary discipline in schools can have a negative global effect on children. The previously mentioned 2011 Open Society Foundation study found that students who were expelled or suspended had a higher likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system compared to other students.

Getting sent to a DAEP, even it's only for 30 days, can have an enormous impact on a child's future. It can slow down their academic progress, lead to more behavior problems, and even see the student dropping out and failing to get their high school diploma. Being isolated from their friends and teachers can also take a toll on emotional health, which further impacts academic performance. Although removal to a DAEP is meant to be a positive behavior management tool, it can lead to negative outcomes.

If your child is facing removal to a DAEP or alternative educational setting, you should work to prevent it. Taking a student out of their regular school environment has far more impact on their future than you might think.

What to Do If Your Child Is Involved in a Disciplinary Issue at Their Texas School

As a parent, you have a better chance of preventing your child from going to a DAEP if you stay active and engaged in the disciplinary process. Know what steps to take as soon as you learn your child is having a disciplinary issue at their high school:

  1. Contact the school right away and get as much information as possible. Write down everything.
  2. Get in contact with a student defense attorney-advisor. Once they have details about your situation, they can start working with you on a strategy.
  3. Speak with your child to see if everything is alright with their classes or teachers. Ask your child to write down everything they remember about the incident in question.
  4. If your child has been hurt, take photos. Collect any other evidence you can.
  5. Record your contacts with school officials and anyone else in a log. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.
  6. Save every written or emailed communication from the disciplinary process and make copies.
  7. Refer to the school's code of conduct to get more information.

It's vital that you consult with a student discipline legal expert as early in the process as possible. Once you know that this issue could lead to severe disciplinary consequences, including removal to a DAEP, you should contact a professional to help you navigate the issue.

Your Child's Future Is at Stake

When your student is facing a DAEP placement, you might think you can handle it alone or that it's not such a big deal. They aren't being expelled, and can presumably return to their regular school after the DAEP placement is over, so why go to so much trouble to prevent a DAEP placement? As noted above, DAEP placement can have far-reaching, long-term impacts on a child.

You may also think that you can handle your child's school administrators on your own. They aren't civil authorities, so you don't need a lawyer, right? Actually, the rules surrounding suspension, expulsion, DAEPs, and school discipline are state law in Texas. School boards must adhere to these laws as well as to the district's code of conduct. If you don't fully understand the Texas Education Code or the code of conduct, you may struggle to guarantee your child's rights during a DAEP placement decision process.

The rules surrounding school discipline in Texas can be complex. It takes a student defense legal expert to understand these laws and apply them to your child's specific situation. If you want to prevent your student from going to a DAEP and protect their prospects, consider working with a student defense attorney.

How a Student Defense Attorney Can Help Your Child Avoid DAEP Placement

When your student is facing an exclusionary punishment like DAEP, an attorney-advisor can assist you as you negotiate with school administrators. They can coach you on how to present your child's case more favorably and let your student know how to conduct themselves during the conference with the behavior coordinator. Even if you cannot have an attorney present with you at the conference, they can still be an invaluable asset to you and your child as you navigate this tricky situation.

An attorney who specializes in student discipline can help you make sense of Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, so you know what your child's rights are and work better to protect them. A legal specialist in this area can also read the code of conduct for your child's school district and ensure that school administrators are following disciplinary procedures properly. You don't want your child's school to abuse their discretionary authority and send your kid to a DAEP for a minor offense that can be handled by school officials on the same campus.

Expert DAEP Defense Attorney Available

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students across Texas and the United States with disciplinary matters, allowing them to effectively stand up to their schools and protect their rights. He has the knowledge and experience necessary to support you and your child through a tough situation with your school board. At the Lento Law Firm, we don't believe a mistake or misunderstanding should ruin a child's future.

Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686 to protect your child's high school education.

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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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