Families & Communities

Safe Schools

Pláticas en Acción
Safe Schools

Students cannot learn in a school setting in which they do not feel safe, nor can they learn if they or their fellow students are under the influence of drugs. But the schools’ answer to this problem has expanded to include removing any student considered disruptive.

What is the Issue
The Texas Education Code outlines reasons that students can be removed from their regular classroom settings. These reasons include serious, dangerous and illegal conduct, but not general classroom disruptions or disorderly conduct.

The policy encourages school districts to house these “alternative settings” at a separate campus or set up alternate classes within schools where offending students could be separated from other students.

A problem exists when teachers and school officials began removing from their classrooms any students they considered “disruptive” and sending them to these alternative settings. Schools began writing codes of conduct that included such discretionary “offenses” as inconveniencing teachers or talking too much in class.

In this way, educators are now using this policy to exile or track students they may have given up on or written off. The latest Safe School Survey shows that some students are being targeted by race or ethnicity or because they attend school in districts that allow schools to enact particularly punitive codes of conduct.

What Should be Done
Parents should know that according to the latest reports, 73 percent of students in alternative programs are there because they violated a rule in the school’s code of conduct – not because they broke the law or engaged in dangerous behavior.

Students should be assigned to an alternative education program only when they represent a serious threat. They should receive educational counseling and other support services to bring about true behavior change and conflict resolution.

A serious study of student outcomes in disciplinary alternative education programs is needed. Parents could then understand the extent to which these programs target a student’s ethnicity and race in determining whether he or she is removed from the regular classroom setting, as well as which school districts are most likely to remove students who violate “code of conduct” rules.

School districts could introduce programs in conflict resolution and peer mediation to handle many of these problems. Such programs could be an effective alternative for dealing with disruptive students, rather than forcing them into settings with dangerous ones.

What You Can Do
Get involved with your school on both the district and local level so you know what alternative educational programs are in place and for what reasons students are referred to these programs. Learn about the availability of conflict resolution and peer mediation programs in your children’s schools, and encourage district and local school officials to offer these programs for dealing with disruptive students. Educate your friends and neighbors about the costs associated with using alternative education programs as a dumping ground for children whose behavior is not threatening or dangerous.

The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is a vanguard leadership development and research team working with people to create self-renewing schools that value and empower all children, families and communities. IDRA is an independent, private non-profit organization directed by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. IDRA, 5835 Callaghan Road, Suite 350, San Antonio, Texas 78228-1190; 210-444-1710; contact@idra.org; www.idra.org. © 2003 by IDRA. • Parent Information Resource Center at IDRA •