Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Alternative Education: The Criminalization of Student Behavior

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Alternative Education: The Criminalization of Student Behavior

Article excerpt


In an article in the New York University Law Review, Harvard Law School professor Gerald Frug proposes that from its inception, public education has been more than just a commodity parents provide their children. Rather, public education has an important social function. (1) According to education philosopher John Dewey, public schools give their students "an opportunity to escape from the limitations of the social group in which [they were] born, and to come into living contact with a broader environment ... different races, differing religions, and unlike customs." (2) Public education was intended to give students a broad perspective to prepare them for living in a complex, diverse society.

Frug only considers a school to be truly public if it is open to the heterogeneity of American life--if it enables students to encounter different groups of people in both curriculum and classroom. (3) This article will examine a relatively recent development in public education: alternative education programs (AEPs). Using Texas public schools as a case study, this article argues that AEPs defeat public education's goal of exposing students to a diverse student body. This is because AEPs segregate at-risk students--usually Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, and poor Whites--from the rest of the student population.

This article deals with disciplinary AEPS, also known as DAEPs. Part I of the article will explore the legislative intent behind the Texas Education Code's DAEP provisions. Part II will describe the Code's DAEP provisions and how they have been supplemented by individual school district codes. Part III will describe how schools can boost their scores on accountability tests through the use of DAEPs. Part IV will discuss the author's quantitative data on DAEPs, emphasizing the race, gender, and reading ability of students placed in DAEPs. Part V will give a qualitative description of a typical DAEP. The article will conclude by arguing that individual school districts have criminalized low student achievement by sending students with academic problems to DAEPs designed for student criminals.

This article relies on quantitative and qualitative data collected from 1996 to 2000. (4) The weaknesses of this article are as follows: (1) The DAEPs in this study were established relatively recently and only limited data is available; (2) because of legal implications (potential Office for Civil Rights investigations), schools do not readily make discipline data available; (3) case study data, in this case the only data available, cannot be generalized; and (4) qualitative descriptions also cannot be generalized.


Alternative education has been in use in Texas for over twenty years. Its impetus came from an honest effort to remove serious juvenile offenders from the classroom during a juvenile crime wave in the 1980s. (5) Students awaiting trial for drug dealing or murder continued to sit in classrooms. Teachers were concerned for their safety and the safety of their students. The issue of seriously disruptive students was added to Texas' public policy agenda.

In June 1984, the Texas 68th Legislature, under pressure from H. Ross Perot, (6) passed massive school reform legislation, including laws establishing DAEPs. (7) Representative Alvin Granoff of Dallas spearheaded the DAEP legislation. (8) Granoff disliked the methods public schools used to punish students with severe discipline problems. (9) He felt that the policy in place at most schools--expelling students for three days--gave delinquent students an unsupervised furlough to commit crimes. (10) Rather than expelling students to roam the streets, schools, according to Granoff, should place students in a supervised educational setting. A Florida study convinced Granoff that DAEPs would succeed in Texas: "We had some studies, like the one I mentioned out of Florida somewhere, where alternative programs had worked, where they gave them special attention and intensive, low teacher to pupil ratio classes. …

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