Fewer Texas kids in discipline schools

The number of Texas children in schools for those previously expelled because of disciplinary problems declined by nearly 40 percent over five years, a top juvenile justice official told lawmakers Monday.

Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs — or schools for students expelled from their home districts — currently operate in 27 counties that include hundreds of school districts and three-fourths of the state’s juvenile population, said Cheryln Townsend, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

The number of students enrolled in those programs declined by 38 percent between the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years, Townsend said. The number of students sent to such programs for “discretionary offenses,” or those where school district officials make judgment calls to expel, fell by nearly half, while mandatory expulsions for offenses like bringing a gun to school fell 31 percent, she said.

Townsend said she thought the drops reflected a change in philosophy for some districts, which now, “support students remaining in regular classrooms.”

Most students attending JJAEPs are male, about three-fourths are minorities, 20 percent have special educational needs and 12 percent have learning disabilities, Townsend told the Texas House Committee on Public Education. She also said that the average length of stay in the program per student has declined — suggesting that more kids are making enough progress to allow them to return to their home districts faster.

But Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Houston Democrat, said fewer average days in JJAEPs might not be a good thing.

He said he had spoken to both teachers and discipline program officials and “their argument is ‘Hey, you send a kid over here for a couple of months, we really can’t change their behavior.”

A tweak in state policy now prohibits administrators from expelling students from DAEPs for minor infractions, meaning fewer students are ending up in JJAEPs.

Printed on Tuesday, May 2, 2012 as: Enrollment in discipline school declines