Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Patterns in Recidivism and Discretionary Placement in Disciplinary Alternative Education: The Impact of Gender, Ethnicity Age, and Special Education Status

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Patterns in Recidivism and Discretionary Placement in Disciplinary Alternative Education: The Impact of Gender, Ethnicity Age, and Special Education Status

Article excerpt


This study examined the probability of (a) being placed in a disciplinary alternative education setting for mandatory versus discretionary reasons and (b) returning within the same year among an ethnically diverse sample (African American, Caucasian, Hispanic) of middle and high school students (N=270). Participants were compared based on ethnicity, gender, grade level, and special education status. Minority students were significantly more likely than Caucasian students to be placed in disciplinary alternative education for discretionary reasons and were more likely to return within the same school year. A similar result was revealed for high school students when compared to middle school students. Differences were found between boys and girls, but none were found between students who qualified for special education services and those who did not. The cultural and developmental implications of these findings are discussed, as well as suggestions for future practice and research.

KEYWORDS: alternative education; discipline; zero tolerance

Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs) are schools designed to serve students who demonstrate difficulty-functioning at their home campus. In contrast to educational and therapeutic alternative settings, DAEPs are aimed at correcting, or managing the behavior of disruptive students (Aron, 2003; Aron, 2006; Raywid, 1995). Considered not to be "schools of choice," student entrance to a DAEP is initiated by administrative referral from the home school (Lange & Sletten, 2002). A nationwide survey of alternative schools and programs for children at risk conducted by the United States Department of Education indicated that there is a shortage of schools to meet the need. Furthermore, 54% of existing disciplinary alternative schools had exceeded maximum enrollment capacity during the 1999, 2000, and 2001 school years (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002).

Despite the increase in placement of students in DAEPs, research exploring the connection between specific pathways of student matriculation and student characteristics does not exist. According to Katsiyannis and Williams (1998), the documentation of entrance and exit patterns for alternative education programs is important as it reduces "placements based on administrative convenience or isolation of 'undesirables,' denial of education services, and engagement in haphazard practices that lack planning and adequately trained personnel" (p. 282). In addition, understanding trends in student discipline provides useful information for those serving on discipline review committees, developing interventions, and attempting to improve the climate and safety of schools. Understanding reasons students were placed might lead to reduction in DAEP enrollment and increase success at the home campus.

Mandatory versus Discretionary Disciplinary Placement

Placement in a DAEP was initially considered mandatory for conduct punishable under Zero Tolerance policies. Zero Tolerance policies were implemented by the federal government in 1994 as a disciplinary mechanism to reduce violence in U.S. schools (Cortez & Montecel, 1999; Foley & Pange, 2006; Hosley, 2003; Katsiyannis & Williams, 1998). Initially developed to extend gun control laws to schools, Zero Tolerance policies expanded the ability of administrators to engage in the "implementation of punitive and judicial forms of discipline" (Casella, 2003; p. 874). These forms of discipline include in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, placement in disciplinary alternative education programs, expulsion, and placement in juvenile justice programs. Offenses considered mandatory and subject to Zero Tolerance include felonies, terroristic threats, and assault or murder (Cortez & Montecel, 1999).

Although Zero Tolerance policies have been the target of much contention, an emerging outcome of these mandatory placement practices is also concerning--the philosophy that a greater variety of behaviors are now considered inappropriate and reason for placement in DAEPS. …

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