Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Utah High School System

Most parents have high expectations for their children. They hope they will excel in school, land a great job after graduation, and have a comfortable and happy life. So, it is quite jarring when their child gets into enough trouble in high school to be referred to an alternative education program (AEP). Unfortunately, participation in AEP programs can incur consequences that last longer than the program itself, including lowering their self-esteem and confidence, stalling their academic progress, and potentially forcing them into a life filled with more negative behavior and harsher punishments.

If your child has been referred to an alternative school and program in Utah, an attorney-advisor can advise you on the best course of action – whether that be fighting the referral or helping you find the best alternative program for them to attend. Call our offices today for help.

Avoid Disciplinary Alternative Education Placement In Utah

When a child is accused of violating the code of conduct at their Utah school, they will probably be punished. Generally, these punishments can range from anything like a warning letter to suspension or complete expulsion. Most administrations endeavor to have the punishment fit the alleged action, but sometimes, the severity of the punishment is much harsher. For instance, in Utah, if a high school student frequently disrupts their class by using vulgar or abusive language, they can be suspended for up to 10 days. If the school requires a suspension of longer than 10 school days, the student and their parents must be given the opportunity to meet with a school official and discuss the allegations and recommended punishment.

If a student is suspended for longer than 10 days, the parent must enroll them in an alternative education program for the time that they are suspended. Unfortunately, many AEPs are not sufficient alternatives to actual high school programs. In fact, participation in an AEP can have other devastating side effects because the student's life is essentially turned upside down. They are removed from their friends and forced to attend another school or are isolated at home to attend an online AEP. When this happens, students are more likely to experience further behavior issues caused by low self-esteem and confidence issues. Additionally, AEPs tend to have less than adequate curriculums and less competent educators, which may cause some students to fall behind in their regular classes when their suspension ends.

Most school districts do not explain the downsides of an AEP placement and instead encourage the idea that AEPs are sufficient education programs where your child will get more individualized attention. In reality, students' AEPs have more negative effects than good ones on your child's behavior and academic success. As such, they should be avoided as much as possible. An attorney-advisor can help explain the complexities of these programs and recommend ways to ensure your student has every chance of graduating at their regular school on time.

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While the term “alternative” makes some parents feel like their child is being asked to attend another program where the academics are sufficient, and they will be given individualized attention in a smaller classroom, the reality is that AEPs

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Utah

In Utah, schools are expected to not only educate their students but to prepare them for how to behave once they graduate. As such, schools identify what acceptable behavior is in their community and work that into their educational requirements. These expectations are highlighted in the school's code of conduct, which is usually delivered in the student handbook. While the language differs from school to school, the gist is the same – students are expected to follow these codes of conduct, and parents are expected to support students in this attempt.

Utah schools must construct codes of conduct that contain obligations for instances like:

  • Disciplinary issues, such as violent acts, assault, destruction of property, defacement of property, use of electronic cigarettes, profane language, theft, and cyberbullying
  • Students bringing weapons to school
  • Students who bring alcohol or drugs to school
  • Academic misconduct, like cheating, plagiarism, multiple submissions, and forgery
  • Title IX and other acts of sexual misconduct

The code of conduct will also include the exact consequences for such actions and the requirements that the consequences must match the severity of the behavior. These consequences tend to include:

  • Notifying the parents and student with a written warning
  • Getting extra work
  • Losing internet privileges
  • Signing behavior contracts or being placed on a remedial disciplinary plan
  • Detention
  • In-school suspension – a student is removed from their regular class schedule to another room where they are given assignments to do for the remainder of their in-school suspension
  • Out-of-school suspension – which may take place in an AEP program
  • Removal to an AEP
  • Expulsion from the school altogether

There are some schools, like East High School in Salt Lake City, that only remove students to an AEP if their behavior is so egregious it would affect the safety of other students and faculty. For instance, if the student is committing an act that violates another person's civil rights (i.e., discrimination, harassment, or retaliation). Your attorney-advisor will review the code of conduct at your high school and make sure the school is upholding your student's due process rights at every step of the process.

Emergency Removal in Utah Schools

When Utah high school students behave destructively, in a way that puts other students, the faculty, and staff in danger, the school has the power to remove those students from the classroom and immediately place them into an AEP without holding a meeting with the parents or school board.

Instances that tend to meet this level of destruction include:

  • Gang-related activities or behavior
  • Rioting or picketing
  • Sit-ins or walk-outs
  • Terrorist threats
  • Bomb threats
  • Trespassing
  • Inciting violence or serious disruptions to the school's ability to function
  • Pranks or other acts that cause real disruptions

If your student has been removed to an AEP under an emergency removal, an attorney-advisor can help advocate for your child with the school administration, encouraging them to return the student to their regular classroom as soon as possible.

The Utah School Discipline Laws and Regulations

In this section, we will discuss the Department of Education's Compilation of Utah School Discipline Laws and Regulations, a collection of school discipline-related laws and regulations. This document explains how schools in Utah are expected to create regulations to ensure a safe environment and how to properly discipline their students.

The Mission of Utah Public Schools

The mission of Utah public schools is to graduate students who are prepared to succeed and lead within their communities by providing them with the knowledge and skills to learn and engage civically. They recognize that all students are capable of learning and thus promote high-quality instruction and equitable access to effective educators. An alternative education placement is meant to help students continue in their academic progress even when dealing with behavioral issues in an effort to keep the school safe for all students.

What is Alternative Education Program in Utah?

An alternative education program (AEP) is supposed to help students who find it hard to behave appropriately in a traditional classroom setting. The hope is that if they are moved to another setting, they will excel. Throughout Utah, school districts are tasked with planning their own AEP programs. AEPs are meant to be temporary, placing the student in a different educational setting while they are currently suspended outside of school or if they have been expelled from the school altogether.

Generally, when a suspended student's AEP period has ended, they will be able to reintegrate into their original classes. For expelled students, though, this time in an AEP can last until graduation. Additionally, if a student continues to misbehave during their AEP period, it could be extended until their behavior levels out.

Alternative Education Program Requirements

Each school district in Utah will get to design what its AEP looks like. To follow state guidelines, though, all districts need to make sure that their AEP meets certain expectations, including:

  • Ensuring access to the general curriculum of their regular classes. That is, the curriculum in the AEP must match what they were learning in their regular classes.
  • Offering the AEP in a setting that is different from the student's regular classroom, on or off school grounds.

Limits on Sending a Student to an Alternative Education Program in Utah

In Utah, students are only supposed to be sent to an AEP for frequent and serious behavior that requires them to be suspended for 10 days or more, or for expulsion. Students should not be referred to an AEP for minor offenses or suspensions of less than 10 days. Really, an AEP should be a last resort for schools that have already exhausted other avenues, or for instances when the student's behavior has caused some sort of emergency situation where removal is necessary. Lento Law Firm will review the reason your child has been referred to an AEP and determine whether the school overstepped its self-imposed limitations to do so.

Prior to being referred to an AEP, the school administrators are supposed to reach out to you about your child's behavior. During this initial conference, you will have the opportunity to request alternatives to the proposed punishment. If the school administrators deny this request, you can appeal to your local school board. An attorney-advisor can help you navigate these proceedings, ensuring the best possible outcome for your case.

Appeal to the Rescue

It is important not to give up if your child is found responsible for the behavior they are being accused of and subsequently referred to an AEP. You will have the opportunity to appeal the decision at another hearing. If the idea of appealing feels overwhelming, an attorney-advisor can help ease that burden. Appeals are incredibly important aspects of the alternative education placement proceedings, and sometimes they are your last chance to ensure your child does not have to suffer through an AEP unnecessarily.

Additionally, if your school district denies you an appeal, an attorney-advisor will help research other ways for your voice to be heard. Lento Law Firm understands how important these proceedings are and won't stop until the final bell tolls.

Statutory Grounds for Expulsion

The Utah School Discipline Laws and Regulations state that a student can be removed to an alternative education placement if they have acted in one of the following ways:

  • Defacing or damaging school property
  • Bringing a weapon, whether it is real or just a look alike
  • Bringing an explosive or flammable material to school
  • Committing an act of violence against another student, teacher, bus driver, or other school official on school property or during a school activity
  • Flagrantly willful disobedience
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Possession of a controlled substance or alcohol
  • Possession of pornographic material on school property

If a student has committed one of the acts described above and is subsequently expelled from their school, they may have to stay in their AEP until graduation.

Who Goes to Alternative Education Programs?

In Utah, students of all ages can be referred to an AEP, though they are usually attended by high school students.

The Downsides of Alternative Education Programs in Utah

There are many downsides to having a student removed from a regular school setting and placed into an AEP. Some administrators even wonder if an AEP placement is effective at all.

Substandard Quality of Education

States are supposed to maintain the same level of education in an AEP as they do in their regular schools, but officials fear that AEPs actually have less than adequate academic instruction. Without sufficient educators, students cannot be expected to keep up with the material in the same way regular students are expected. But, when students are allowed to fall behind in the AEP program because of the quality of the instructor, it is very unlikely that they will ever be able to catch up with their peers when they are allowed back into the regular classroom.

Attendance Issues

Additionally, alternative schools are less accessible than the local public school. For instance, despite districts being required to have alternative education programs, they may not be located near the original school. Without reliable transportation, attendance is hard to come by, which in turn decreases their access to an education.

Criminalizing Misconduct

There are several reasons a student can be sent to an AEP, not just for criminal-style behavior. By excluding these students from their regular environment, it could make them feel like they are really criminals, forcing their self-esteem to decrease. When this happens, their grades are sure to slip, making it hard for them to fulfill the requirements of their AEP. If a student is unable to fulfill those requirements, they may be forced to stay in the AEP longer than originally planned.

Discipline is Unfair

According to an Open Society Foundation study from 2011, Black and Hispanic students tend to be unreasonably punished for their behavior in school and sent to alternative education placements far more often than their white counterparts. This is true even when the students qualified for special education programs.

Repeat Alternative Education Programs Sessions

Further, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) discovered that one AEP session could breed further sessions. One out of every three students is sent multiple times a year. Going to an AEP just once can push their education back significantly, being forced to go several times a year could mean having to repeat the entire school year.

High Dropout Rates

As we explained above, students who are placed in an AEP have a harder time keeping up with their schoolwork. According to IDRA, this, and the social stigmas associated with an AEP, puts these students at a higher risk of dropping out of school altogether. For example, when a child is forced to complete an AEP after being consistently disruptive in class, they may either retreat into themselves upon returning to their regular classroom or begin acting out even more. Students who feel misunderstood tend to drop out to avoid those feelings.

Contact with the Juvenile Justice System

By disciplining a student with an AEP, the student can experience several negative effects. For instance, The Open Society Foundation, mentioned above, stated that expelled or suspended students are more likely to misbehave outside of school – sometimes criminally. When this happens, they will come into close contact with the juvenile justice system.

So AEPs do not only stint a child's academic progress, but they encourage more difficult behaviors. Students may begin isolating themselves from their teachers and classmates, causing mental health issues later on in life. But these negative consequences can be mitigated with the help of an attorney-advisor.

What to Do if Your Child is Involved in a Disciplinary Issue at Their Utah School

If your child has a disciplinary issue at their Utah school, you must act fast. The principal should notify you of the incident, but if they don't and you somehow learn of it through your child, another parent, or your child's teacher, you should take the following steps to ensure your child isn't subject to any unnecessary punishments or disruptions to their education.

  1. As soon as you learn of the incident, contact the school and get as much information as you can from them. Make sure you write it all down or record it.
  2. Reach out to an attorney-advisor who will start working on your case right then.
  3. Speak to your child about the incident and ask them to record exactly what happened.
  4. Make sure you take photos if your child was hurt during the incident.
  5. Make sure you record every conversation you have with school officials, teachers, or any other relevant individual after that initial phone call. Be sure to take down all the dates, times, and lengths of the conversations.
  6. Keep records of all your communications and make copies for your attorney-advisor.
  7. Take a look at the school's code of conduct to see if the school followed its own procedures.

The moment you learn of the incident, you should speak to an attorney-advisor to ensure the school does not try to unnecessarily punish your child. There have been cases in the past where the school will attempt to punish a child without even notifying the parent and giving the child a chance to present their side of the story. Lento Law Firm will make sure that the school follows its own policies and won't allow your child's case to fall through the cracks.

Your Child's Future Is at Stake

An AEP referral meeting may not sound complicated, you might even think you can handle it on your own. But these proceedings are actually very nuanced and complex. One misstep could mean the difference between an in-school suspension for three days and full expulsion to an AEP placement. Additionally, when your child is involved, emotions are running high, which can make it very hard to advocate effectively. An attorney-advisor understands how these proceedings operate and will be able to create a strategic defense on your child's behalf, guaranteeing you the best possible outcome.

How a Student Defense Attorney Can Help Your Child Avoid Alternative Education Program Placement

If your child has been referred for an AEP placement, an attorney-advisor can help negotiate with the school, showing them why an exclusionary punishment such as this should be set aside. In some cases, attorney-advisors cannot be present at the actual hearing. If this occurs, Lento Law Firm will fully prepare you to present the case on your child's behalf.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of high school students across the country with disciplinary matters that could lead to an AEP placement. They will help you create a solid defense that ensures your child's due process rights are protected. Do not let an AEP ruin your child's chances to excel in life. Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation.

Contact Us Today!

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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