Ana Ramón • IDRA Newsletter • February 2020 •

Initially in 1995, the Texas Legislature established disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEPs) for students who committed criminal offenses, like gun violations, assault and drug possession in parts of the state that did not have access to juvenile justice facilities. Texas soon expanded the program to allow educators to remove students from the classroom for “discretionary” infractions, stigmatizing hundreds of thousands of students.

IDRA studied the results of the DAEP policies in 1999 and 2009. Both studies found that four of five students sent to DAEPs were sent for non-serious offenses (Cortez & Robledo Montecel, 1999; Cortez, 2009). Some of those referrals were for behaviors as minor as talking back to a teacher or chewing gum.

Data from the Texas Education Agency show that, today, more than half (52%) of DAEP referrals are for discretionary reasons. And across all discipline types, 87% of the disciplinary actions taken against students were for violations of the schools’ student codes of conduct.

Students in DAEP facilities lose numerous regular instruction days and face an increased likelihood of in-grade retention, school disengagement and contact with the justice system. A comprehensive study of nearly 1 million Texas students found that 15% of students were assigned to a DAEP at least once between seventh and 12th grades. On average, those students lost 27 days of regular classroom instruction. And 31% of students who received one or more disciplinary actions (including suspensions and other expulsions) were held back a grade level at least once, compared to about 5% of their peers who received no action. (Fabelo, et al., 2011)

The study also found that 23% of students who received school disciplinary actions had future contact with the juvenile justice system, while only 2% percent of their non-disciplined peers had similar system involvement. (Fabelo, et al., 2011)

IDRA’s research on attrition rates in Texas showed that increased disciplinary referrals, like DAEP placements, contributed to the high number of students who did not graduate, particularly boys and students of color (Johnson, 2016).

Texas schools sent 80,815 students to DAEPs in 2018-19. DAEP referrals disproportionately impact Black students, who made up almost 23% of the students referred to DAEPs but only 12.5% of the student population. Similarly, special education students comprised 10% of the student population but made up 27% of the students referred to a DAEP in 2018-19. (TEA, 2019)

In the coming months, the Texas Senate Education Committee will hold interim hearings to consider DAEP policy recommendations that could become legislation during the next legislative session. IDRA recommends that the Texas Legislature do the following.

End policies and school practices that create hostile school environments for students. Schools should work to keep every student in class every day and should never send students to DAEPs for minor student codes of conduct violations. Schools should implement models, like restorative practices, to identify the needs of students and adults and meet the goal of keeping as many students in the classroom as possible.

Increase the presence of counselors, social workers and nurses and decrease the presence of police in our public schools. Last year, the average academic counselor had 455 students under his or her watch, according to the American School Counselor Association, which recommends a 250:1 ratio. The average in Texas is almost twice that with one counselor for every 442 students (Bojorquez, 2019). Healthcare professionals can recognize the needs of members of a campus community, intervene when potential issues arise, and help teachers and administrators support students instead of penalizing them.

Direct funds for teachers and administrators at home campuses to support students. De-emphasizing usage of DAEPs is vital to reducing the harmful and disproportionate impact they have on students. Instead, the legislature should increase funding for research-based supports and programs in schools to help keep students in class and out of DEAPs.

The state should prioritize policies that help students stay in the classroom and help schools forgo sending them to DAEPs altogether.


Bojorquez, H. (May 2019). “School Counselors Express Concerns about College and Career Advising in Texas,” IDRA Newsletter.

Cortez, A. (2009). Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs in Texas – A 2009 Update. San Antonio: IDRA.

Cortez, A., & Robledo Montecel, M. (1999). Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs in Texas – What Is Known; What Is Needed. A Policy Brief. San Antonio: IDRA.

Fabelo, T., Thompson, M.D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks, M.P., & Booth, E.A. (2011). Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Johnson, R. (2016). “Zero Tolerance Policies Likely Contribute to High Attrition Rates of Black Students and Hispanic Students,” Texas Public School Attrition Study 2016-17. San Antonio: IDRA.

Texas Education Agency. (2019). State Level Annual Discipline Summary: PEIMS Discipline Data for 2018-2019. Austin: TEA.

Ana Ramón is IDRA’s deputy director of advocacy. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at

[©2020, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2020 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]