Is your child being sent to an alternative education program in Arkansas?
When you first sent your child to their high school, you probably didn't imagine that their experience there would end so abruptly. You didn't expect a curt notification from your school detailing your student's new educational accommodations. You certainly didn't expect to have so little a say in the matter.
If this has already happened — or seems imminent — you need to snap into action (fast). Alternative education placements in Arkansas are disciplinary measures generally reserved for at-risk students, students who pose a danger to others, or (as Arkansas's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education deems them) “Arkansas's hardest-to-reach students.”
As you may expect, if your student is associated with that kind of label, it may be very difficult to bounce back and enjoy a successful future after their alternative educational placement.
- Your student might have a hard time leaving their alternative education program and resuming their student status at their previous institution — or any other similar school
- Your student might experience difficulties when applying to college, as admissions boards may not look kindly at their time spent in an AR alternative education program
- Your child may even have a hard time getting a job later on in life for the same reason: Prospective employers won't want to hire someone who was, at one point, mandated to attend an alternative education program.
And, of course, in addition to these hefty future consequences, your entire family will feel the swift repercussions of an alternative education placement. Your student will need to attend a new school, immerse themselves in a new community, and perhaps even reconsider their immediate education plans, depending on the options and courses of study available at their new school.
It's impossible to overstate how much is at stake with your student's alternative education placement. You need to act now to ensure that your child is able to continue attending their current school and that their transcript and permanent records do not reflect this disciplinary action. Your student may have made a mistake; your school may have misunderstood the situation. Your school's administration could be recommending an inappropriately severe sanction. With Joseph D. Lento at your side, you can work to figure out what happened and reduce any impact this might have on your student's bright future.
What Is Disciplinary Alternative Education in Arkansas?
In Arkansas, if a school determines that its institution is not the right fit for a specific student, that school may (in some circumstances) be able to exercise the right to send that student away.
Alternative education programs exist to support those students identified by their schools as in need of a different educational environment. The recommendation to attend such a program is not always punitive. As the state's department of education notes:
Alternative education is a student intervention program consisting of an alternate class or program within a public school or school district that affords all students an environment that seeks to eliminate traditional barriers to learning for students whose academic and social progress are negatively affected by the student's personal characteristics or situation. It is not a punitive environment, but is one that is conducive to learning.
Just because being sent to an alternative education program is not always meant to be punitive does not mean that it won't feel (or be perceived) this way. Often, schools will specifically use it as a disciplinary measure, listing it in their code of conduct as a rare-but-invokable sanction.
The State of Arkansas has established a long list of alternative education programs (organized by school district here). Many of these programs are welcoming environments staffed by caring people who want to help at-risk students achieve their goals. Other programs are underfunded and understaffed. The programs must meet a specific set of standards, as noted by the state website:
Alternative education programs must submit a program description every three years for approval from the Office of Alternative Education. The program description submitted must demonstrate the components required by the law and rules that govern alternative education in Arkansas.
These laws oversee intervention services, reporting, funding, and more.
Regardless of the state of the program, alternative education isn't your first choice for your child. So much so that you may wonder: How did your school identify your student as one needing alternative education? Is your school allowed to send your student to alternative education without your approval?
How Do Alternative Education Programs in Arkansas Work?
First of all: Which student populations attend alternative education programs?
As you might expect, this depends on the program and the specific group of identified at-risk students. For example, there are some alternative education programs that focus solely on supporting students with special needs.
Other alternative education programs in Arkansas serve students who:
- Have documented disruptive or dangerous behavioral issues
- Have dropped out of school or skipped school more often than their original schools allow
- Have failed to keep up with the academic standards and timelines of their original schools
In most cases, a referral to alternative education should come at the end of a disciplinary due process through your student's school. For example, if your student is allegedly failing to progress academically as expected by their teacher, there should be a series of investigations and conversations between you, your student, their teacher, and your school before any type of alternative education referral is made.
However, your school may also reserve the right to send students away very quickly, especially if the rationale for this decision involves your student's alleged danger to their peers. If this is the case, your student could be told to attend a very different school (one in a different location, with unfamiliar courses and resources and support structures) without much notice at all.
In either situation, it's vital that you reach out to a student defense advisor as quickly as possible.
What Behaviors Trigger Disciplinary Referrals to Alternative Education in Arkansas?
Arkansas law keeps the list of qualifying actions for alternative education relatively vague. According to Arkansas Administrative Rules 005.15.022:
School district discipline policies shall include provisions for placement of a student with disciplinary, socially dysfunctional, or behavioral problems not associated with a handicapping condition in an alternative learning environment provided by the district. Behavioral problems shall include those at risk of not satisfactorily completing a high school education.
The types of actions that your school could describe as “disciplinary, dysfunctional, or behavioral” problems worthy of expulsion or a referral to alternative education will depend on your school's unique regulations. Referencing your school's code of conduct will give you the best and most updated information about prohibited behaviors.
There are common actions that most Arkansas schools will consider punishable. For example, any of these actions could result in an allegation of misconduct and resultant due process:
- Use of alcohol
- Bringing a weapon to school
- Bullying or cyberbullying
- Misusing a computer
- Vandalizing school property
- Use of a controlled substance
- Any kind of assault
Near your school's list of prohibited behaviors will be a list of associated consequences. Common punitive measures employed by Arkansas schools include:
- Referral to an alternative education program
- In-school suspension
- Out-of-school suspension
- Loss of student privileges
- A mandatory behavioral contract
- Community service
Clearly, some of these consequences are more serious than others. Some are also more common than others. Most often, after a school has decided that a student is responsible for punishable behavior, the school will either suspend or expel that student. In some severe cases, the school could also determine that the student requires alternative education, at least for some period of time. If the school exercises any of these types of exclusionary punishments, alternative education programs may be the only clear route open for your child to pursue.
Why Should Your Arkansas Student Avoid Alternative Education Programs?
Arkansas alternative education programs may present appropriate levels of support for some students in some scenarios. And as they are overseen by the Arkansas government, these programs should provide adequate educational resources.
That said, most Arkansas parents would rather their students avoid these programs. They can cause some concerns. Common worries that parents may have about alternative education programs in Arkansas include:
- The criminalization of school misconduct. Many parents feel that school infractions should be handled by the school — not by an external institution that will, by its very nature, make their student feel like an outsider. If your school believes that your student is responsible for non-threatening school-related behavior, it may feel like sending your student away is an outsized reaction to something that should just merit detention or community service.
- The inability to keep up with peers. When students experience sizable shifts in their life circumstances, much of their ability to focus necessarily goes to handling the logistics of the new event. If your student gets transferred to another school — especially if it's a surprise, especially if it's without their input or approval — they're going to spend time getting used to their new environment and community. This will take time and energy away from their ability to focus on their studies. As a result, even if your student is able to return to their original school, they will have fallen behind their peers and may even need to be held back a grade as a result.
- Unexpected logistical issues. Your school district may only have one alternative education program, and it may be very far from your home. You may have to completely upend your family's routine to get your student where they need to be. As a result, even with the best of efforts from your student and your family, your student's school attendance rates may suffer.
- The high rate of recurrence. If your current school sends your student to alternative education and your student manages to find their way back to their original school, there's a good chance that the next time your school administration thinks your student is responsible for misconduct — which they will, as your student now has a record — they'll just recommend another referral to alternative education. This will result in frequent disruptions to your student's educational experience, which will very likely result in delayed graduation timelines and poor mental health outcomes for your child.
For these and other reasons, such as the negative effect alternative education placements will have on your student's future education and employment chances, you need to find a way to avoid a referral to alternative education for your student.
In the next sections, we'll discuss the steps you may be able to take to work towards a more successful outcome.
Can I Appeal an Alternative Education Referral in Arkansas?
One of your first actions immediately after learning that your student could face an alternative education referral in Arkansas is to file an appeal. (Your first action should be to call a student defense advisor.)
Your school's specific processes for filing an appeal may vary, but, in most cases, you'll need to work quickly. Start by working with your student defense attorney to pull together the most strategic, persuasive argument possible supporting your student's right to stay in school. Your defense advisor can help you go through your student's code of conduct or find precedent to bolster this argument. You'll then file this with your school's administration and wait for a response. Your school may contact you for further information; then, after a brief waiting period, your school should get back to you with a response. This decision will be final.
If you're appealing a referral to alternative education, you may need to initiate this appeal process after your student has already been extracted from their familiar school environment. Regardless of the timeline, know that you should have the right to appeal. Keep a detailed log of everything that happens to your student — especially if things start happening very unexpectedly or quickly — and save all related correspondence that your school sends you.
If your school declines your appeal or reaffirms its decision to refer your student to an alternative program, ask your student defense advisor to negotiate directly with your school's office of general counsel. This lawyer-to-lawyer conversation often yields results when you've exhausted all other avenues for relief.
Ultimately, if neither an appeal nor your attorney-advisor's interventions can help your student, you may be able to pursue litigation against your school. Your student defense attorney will assess your situation and help you determine whether this step will help you and your family.
How to Protect Your Child Through a Disciplinary Issue At Your Arkansas High School
When you learn that your student faces a disciplinary referral to an alternative education program, your first priority is their wellbeing. You'll also be very angry at your student's school (and confused and overwhelmed), but you need to focus first on taking strategic steps to support a favorable outcome for your student.
As we've noted above, the very first thing you'll need to do the moment you learn about an impending disciplinary referral is to contact a student defense advisor. You need to do this earlier than you think. The initial stages of a disciplinary investigation are disproportionately influential. You need a professional advisor at your side to ensure that your school doesn't step out of bounds or infringe upon your student's rights.
Once you've gotten in contact with an advisor, there are some other actions you can take to help your student. Consider the following steps:
- Start from as clean a slate as you can. Your school may not have the complete picture of what happened, so don't assume that your school's allegations against your child are gospel. Don't take your child's word for what's happening, either: Your child is scared and stressed. Instead, collect as much information as possible to see what lines up. Ask your child what happened, write down what they say, and date the note. Do the same thing with someone from your school's administration.
- Ask your child if anything else is happening at school that you should know about. Are all of your student's teachers treating your student well? Is your child embroiled in any student drama that could provide context to the allegations? If there is anything at all happening in your student's academic experience that is worrying them, note it down.
- Assess your child's physical condition. (This is an essential step regardless, but it's especially crucial if the allegations against your child involve some type of physical infraction.) Take pictures of any bruises or other injuries your child may have.
- Start a log to capture any conversations you may have with your school's administration. Whenever you have a conversation, jot down the key points you covered, the date, the name of the person you spoke with, and the general length of the conversation.
- Designate a folder for any pieces of written communication your school sends you regarding your student's disciplinary case. Your student defense advisor will want to see these letters and notices as they help you build a defense for your student.
What Can a National Defense Attorney-Advisor Do to Help My Arkansas High Schooler?
In the midst of the stressors and dealing with the logistics of your student's disciplinary referral, you may pause to wonder: How is your defense advisor going to help your student?
There are several specific reasons why bringing in a professional will help your student's case. They include:
- Getting your school to take you more seriously. Just having an external authority on your side will show your school that you mean business.
- Making sure that your school abides by its own protocols.
- Thoroughly understanding your school's code of conduct. Your school's code of conduct is a tricky, confusing document written mostly in footnotes and legalese. Your defense advisor will have the specific training necessary to not only understand it but zero in on precisely the most helpful and relevant sections in a timely manner.
- Being able to leverage all-important direct negotiations between your advisor and your school's lawyers. This may help you keep your student in school without having to resort to expensive, relationship-harming lawsuits.
Joseph D. Lento, an Arkansas Student Defense Advisor, Can Help You Protect Your Child
When your student is facing a mandatory move to an alternative education program, you may feel like you have lost all sense of control over your child's future.
It may seem like the education you've built for your child is crumbling — and your family's plans with it. In these situations, you need to be able to move forward quickly and strategically to ensure that your school is following its own rules and respecting your child's rights throughout the entire disciplinary process.
Of course, this is easier said than done: Your child's future is at stake, and your school's disciplinary processes are labyrinthine. You need a professional to help you sift through your school's documents and analyze any evidence available to create the strongest defense possible for your child.
Joseph D. Lento is that professional.
Joseph D. Lento is a nationwide student defense attorney-advisor who, for years, has supported students as they protect their reputations. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can oversee skilled negotiations and provide aggressive representation to help you and your child pursue the best possible outcome in your case.
If you're interested in learning more about how the Lento Law Firm can help you, call 888.535.3686 or contact us online.