Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in Your State’s High School System

If your student gets involved in typical high school misconduct issues such as cheating or classroom disruption, you may assume that they'll have to serve a detention or maybe undergo a brief suspension.

You probably don't expect your school to recommend alternative education for your child.

That type of consequence can seem completely out-of-the-blue or a severe escalation of your school's disciplinary policy. Yet disciplinary alternative education placements are a very real punitive option for schools across the country, and you need to be prepared for what that means for your child.

While your state's government may require alternative education programs for students who are deemed ‘disruptive' to your school's environment, alternative education programs are usually far from helpful for the students required to attend them. At the very least, having a referral to alternative education or a disciplinary placement on your student's permanent record can make your student's future far more complex than it needs to be — and that's to say nothing of the potential short-term consequences of being placed in an entirely different academic environment.

Disciplinary placements are a drastic option. Avoiding them at all costs will be essential for your child's future and your entire family's peace of mind. Fortunately, by starting early and working with a student defense attorney to defend your student's rights and reputation, you may be able to help them avoid the short- and long-term consequences of this type of discipline.

In this helpful guide, and in each of the state-specific pages that follow, we'll cover basic information about alternative education — and how you can start helping your child as strategically as possible.

What Is Disciplinary Alternative Education Placement?

Every student has the right to an education. While the specifics may vary depending on local legislation, your state must have some form of alternative education in place for students who are deemed “disruptive” or “in need of reform” by their original schools.

The specific terminology used and even the form that education can take will look different from state to state. For example, in Pennsylvania, the program most often used in these situations is called the AEDY, or Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth; in Texas, there is an extensive DAEP (or Disciplinary Alternative Education Program). Other states may simply recommend online learning or a similar alternative if necessary.

These options provide schools with an “out of sight, out of mind” solution for their more “difficult” students. If a student is involved with problematic behaviors, a school may not have to figure that out on its own. Rather, it can just refer the child to alternative education, and, suddenly, the problem is no longer theirs.

Unsurprisingly, while this may work out conveniently for the school, it can be a nightmare for students and their parents. We'll discuss the short- and long-term ramifications of disciplinary placements below, but these situations rarely play out in a student's best interest.

What Behaviors May Trigger a Disciplinary Placement?

Now, you may be wondering: That seems like an extremely harsh punishment. What would a student have to do to deserve that?

Excellent question. While every school in your state may have a certain amount of freedom to figure out which punishable behaviors might trigger a disciplinary placement, some states do have clear outlines about what actions disallow a student from remaining in a school setting.

Whether your school came up with its list on its own or is using your state's recommendation for expulsion-worthy behaviors, common reasons for a disciplinary referral to alternative education include:

  • Assault of a fellow student
  • Assault of a teacher
  • Bringing a weapon to school
  • Bullying
  • Cyberbullying
  • Using controlled substances or alcohol on campus
  • Stealing from a fellow student, a teacher, or their school
  • Misusing a computer
  • Performing vandalism

Your high school's code of conduct should define what the expected or associated punishments are. Depending on the environment at your school and the laws in your state, these actions (or, perhaps more accurately, your school believing that your student is associated with these actions) could merit an emergency removal from your school.

What Happens in an Emergency Disciplinary Removal From Our High School?

If your student's alleged behavior is deemed unsafe for their peers or other members of your academic community, your school can elect to remove them from the school campus immediately. This may involve escorting your student off-campus, with or without the appropriate amount of time or notice to collect their things or speak with their peers, and your school issuing some type of recommendation for alternate education, so your student's right to an education is not violated.

There are only certain scenarios in which this is permitted, and if your student has undergone an emergency removal, it's vital that you and your student take close notes of everything that happens. Then, if you haven't already consulted with a student defense attorney, do so at once. Your student defense attorney may be able to help you put what you have learned to good use.

Are There Limits to What Is Considered Appropriate Use of Disciplinary Placements?

Depending on your state's requirements and the policies in place at your student's previous school and their prospective alternative educational program, there are specific limitations in place designed, at least on paper, to avoid poor treatment of your student.

These limits include:

  • The amount of time your student spends in alternative education. As the goal of alternative education should be to send students back to their original schools, many programs will have some kind of expected duration within their program — e.g., 45 days. Many students may stay beyond that period of time, however.
  • The options taken prior to sending your student to alternative education. Many states require that schools exhaust all other disciplinary options, including various types of restorative justice or other rehabilitative forms of discipline, prior to exercising this particular form of exclusionary discipline. If you or your student does not believe that your school has explored all options, be sure to note that and express this concern to your student defense attorney.
  • Giving you, your student, and your student defense advisor a fair opportunity (usually, some type of hearing) to demonstrate why your child does not deserve to undergo a disciplinary placement. This hearing should take place prior to the placement, but if your school has elected to pursue an emergency or immediate placement, you should still be able to request a hearing in a very timely manner afterward. At this hearing, the appropriate administrators should be present, the reasons for the student's removal should be clearly stated, and your student disciplinary defense attorney should be able to make a statement on your student's behalf.
  • Your school's responsibility to consider updating the recommendation for disciplinary action if factors come to light that show the student may not have been responsible for their alleged actions or that there is some sufficient explanation involved that makes it clear the student had no ill intent.

For example, this last point may be crucial if it can be shown that your student only acted violently out of self-defense, if your student was the victim of bullying at the time, or if your student has some kind of mental or physical disability that would impair their capacity to understand the impact of their actions fully. Make sure that your student defense attorney is aware of all these factors as early as possible in your case.

Can I Appeal My Student's Disciplinary Placement?

Whether your student's placement has not yet occurred or the placement has already happened, you should be able to file a formal appeal to ask your school to reconsider its decision.

When you do so, it's key that you make sure your appeal is as strong as possible, as you'll likely only get one chance to file. This means working with your defense attorney to uncover the most compelling reason possible for your student to stay precisely where they are.

Your school's code of conduct should contain more information about where and how to file this appeal. For example, you may submit your paperwork and argument to the behavior coordinator at your school. After hearing back, discuss your next options with your attorney. You may be able to petition the school board or escalate the matter to other officials within your school district — or even your state.

One route to relief that we have found to be particularly effective is simple: Have your student defense attorney speak directly with your school's general counsel on your student's behalf. This type of lawyer-to-lawyer conversation often results in satisfactory conclusions to stressful proceedings.

If nothing seems to be working, you may even be able to sue your school district. However, as this can be extremely expensive and drastic, it's best to consult with your student defense attorney and pursue all other means of relief before filing a suit.

When Alternative Disciplinary Education Doesn't Actually Help

The aim of alternative education plans may be good on paper — no student, even a student who has allegedly committed a punishable offense, should be subject to exclusionary discipline and miss out on their education.

However, in practice, a student who is forced to attend an alternative form of education almost always experiences reduced benefits associated with their education.

It's important to distinguish between disciplinary placement alternative education and the fact that more and more versatile forms of education are becoming more popular due to the pandemic. If a student, their educational community, their family, and their peers all attend online classes with a specific plan for maintaining in-person connections, for example, that may not necessarily lead to poor outcomes.

When a child is moved quickly, unexpectedly, or against their wishes to an alternative form of education as a result of a disciplinary process, things are a little different — even though from the outside, the experience may seem similar.

When a student undergoes a disciplinary educational placement anywhere in America, they may experience the following issues:

A lower standard of education. The instruction that children receive in disciplinary educational programs is not always as high as what they may be used to at their current schools. This is particularly true if you enrolled your student at a school with a unique academic focus — for example, a high school devoted to the arts or hard sciences. The program that your student is placed in for disciplinary reasons may not have the niche resources or experienced instructors present at the school you initially chose.

Unexpected commutes. While your student's disciplinary placement may be an online educational program, it could also be a different physical, in-person school. This new location could be far from convenient, requiring an upheaval of your current routines. This may or may not sound like the most pressing concern. Still, if your student's only academic option is suddenly an hour across town instead of their previous school five minutes down the road, that will have real-life consequences for your entire family.

An overreaction to academic misconduct and behavioral issues. Being sent to a disciplinary form of alternative education can make the affected children feel like their behavior has been criminalized. If their actions were relatively innocuous or simple mistakes — such as classroom disruption or cheating on an exam — the disruption of their entire academic experience can seem wildly overblown. Suddenly, even though your student didn't do anything dangerous, they could feel that they've been ostracized from their entire community and their reputation harmed in an irreparable way.

The likelihood that your student will experience another disciplinary placement in the future! Once your student has undergone a disciplinary placement to an alternative education program, it's very difficult to work their way back to their previous or preferred school. However, if they do manage to do so, it may not be for long. The moment your school has any reason, no matter how small, to believe that your student is involved in further misconduct, they'll likely send your child away again. This kind of disruption to your child's education will not go without an impact on your child's health, happiness, or even their future.

Suppose your school is threatening to suspend or expel your student, send them away for disciplinary reasons, or provide information about alternative education forms. In that case, you need to know the facts.

You also need to start working to protect your child immediately. These types of situations can get very serious very quickly.

What Should I Do if My Child's Facing Disciplinary Placement in High School?

It could come as a complete shock — a tersely-worded note from your school's administration telling you that your child needs to report somewhere unexpected for their education to continue.

It could be far more gradual. Your child may have been involved in more minor offenses against your school's code of conduct in the past. Now, your school's saying that it's at the end of its flexibility and that your school may have no choice but to recommend your child for alternate education.

No matter how it happens, it would help if you acted quickly. Once you believe that a disciplinary placement could be in your child's future, consider these action items:

  1. Contact your school. Even if you think you already know everything about the case, you need to speak with someone in the administration to see what is going on, what they believe your student has done, and what the next steps in the disciplinary process are. Write down everything you learned, the name of the person you spoke with, and the date of the conversation.
  2. Speak with a student defense advisor. While this may seem like an overreaction, remember, these situations can move quickly. You need to make sure that someone with the experience to guide you through this scenario successfully is briefed and ready to act at a moment's notice. Give your advisor all of the information you have so they can start supporting you with strategic plans.
  3. Ask your child about what happened. Again, even if you think you can piece together the full story from the bits and pieces they've told you, it's a good idea to sit down with your student and get the whole story at once. Write everything down. This is also a good time to ask your child if they have any complaints about their school experience or if anything at school has made them uncomfortable recently.
  4. Start a database of the evidence you have. Keep a folder on your computer's desktop or get an envelope to fill with any data you find. Take pictures of social media posts; save emails; write down and date accounts of conversations you have. Your defense advisor will need all of this information. In particular, make sure that you save all emails and communications you receive from your school regarding the impending disciplinary placement.
  5. Locate your school's code of conduct and read through it. Your student defense advisor may be able to help, as this document will be lengthy and confusing.

Taking these actions will help you, your student, and your student defense advisor be prepared for your school's disciplinary recommendations. As a result, you may be able to help your student avoid the long-term consequences associated with alternative education.

What Will Happen in the Long Run if My Child Experienced Alternative Disciplinary Education?

Above, we briefly detailed the various immediate downsides of disciplinary placements and alternative educational experiences.

However, it's critical to understand that the consequences of this type of discipline go far further than your child's short-term experience. As serious as the effects of lower educational standards or repeated recommendations for alternative education may be, the real long-term consequences are even greater.

If your student receives a notation of their disciplinary experiences on their permanent student record, that could make it very difficult for them to enjoy success even after they've graduated from high school. Far from being able to leave their disciplinary placement experience in the past, your child may not be able to get into the college or start the career that they wanted to prior to the disciplinary placement.

After all, imagine what a college admissions board or future employer will think when they pause to examine your student's record? When they see that your student was recommended for alternative education for disciplinary reasons, will they want to welcome your student with open arms into their community? Will they decide that they want to give your student the benefit of the doubt and learn more about their experiences? Very likely, not — and, as a result, your student will lose out on opportunities that they may have easily won without that note on their record.

If you believe that a recommendation for disciplinary placement may be in your student's future, the time to act is now. Reach out to a student defense advisor to give your student the best possible chance of success.

Require Assistance with a High School Disciplinary Placement? Call Joseph D. Lento

For years, Joseph D. Lento has provided strategic, timely support to students across the nation facing disciplinary matters.

If your student is up against an unfair, overly aggressive, or seemingly hopeless disciplinary situation at their school, you need to act quickly. You also need an expert at your side. Navigating these types of situations requires innate knowledge about the nuances of academic due procedure.

Joseph D. Lento is ready to provide that and more. Whether your student requires assistance during an adjudicative scenario, needs help with an effective defense, or requires support as they work towards a favorable outcome, Joseph D. Lento can help — no matter where in America you are.

Don't let a high school mistake or miscommunication stand between your student and the successful future of their choice. Instead, speak with Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or online to protect your child's name and educational experience.

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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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