Houston Schools Plan to Reconnect with At-Risk Students

Trustees at the Houston Independent School District approved a proposal to retake control over its Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP), the place where middle and high school students all too often wind up after breaking school rules, only to find themselves in the school-to-prison pipeline.

This signals a change of heart over who should educate kids deemed at-risk. Since 2012, Houston ISD, like other school districts, outsourced DAEP to Camelot Schools of Texas, LLC. That contract expires on June 30. The decision to bring the program in-house was one Superintendent Richard Carranza explained at the March 9 board meeting by saying, “At the end of the day, these are our children.”

He added, “There is change happening at HISD. We are not about the school-to-prison pipeline. We are focused on ensuring that every student walks across the stage as a global graduate.”

DAEP is a troubling checkpoint on the school-to-prison pipeline, the term that describes when public schools criminalize the behaviors of underage students often setting them on a dubious path within the juvenile justice system. Youths’ poor choices and mistakes can and often do remain on student permanent records, impacting their futures when applying to college or a job, Breitbart Texas has reported.

Another problem are the placements themselves. The 2006 report, “Schooling a New Class of Criminals?” revealed over 80 percent of DAEP referrals were “discretionary” meaning school district administrators can find a “basis for using virtually any disciplinary violation as justification” for sending students to these facilities.

On top of this, students with long-term DAEP placements fall behind academically. A center’s coursework does not necessarily match a school district’s curriculum. They return to their regular campuses and struggle to catch up. Houston ISD hopes that administering the program internally will remedy this problem because they can align academic and behavioral interventions among campuses, improve transitional support for students between their enrolled school and the discipline-based venue, and deploy DAEP staff members around the district to assist students grade 6-12 when the alternative site is not at capacity, according to a Houston ISD press release.

“Every student will be educated in HISD by HISD teachers, principals, counselors, behavioralists [sic], and support personnel,” said Carranza. He called Houston ISD “a different district,” adding: “We have policies in place that prevent suspensions of our youngest students. We have restorative practices being implemented, behavioral support, and a positive climate.”

Houston ISD believes this proposal philosophically falls in line with other recent decisions. Last year, they were the state’s first school district to ban suspensions and expulsions for their most vulnerable students, those in pre-Kindergarten through second grade. Other districts followed their lead.

Currently, Houston ISD pays Camelot $8.6 million a year to operate its Beechnut campus. They also shell out another $1.2 million in transportation costs, according to the “Approval to Establish an Internal Disciplinary Alternative Education Program for Secondary Students” proposal.

Before working with Camelot, Houston ISD forked over $18 million a year to Community Education Partners (CEP) to outsource DAEP. In its last year working with the school district, CEP consolidated the program and Houston ISD’s payment dropped to nearly $12 million, according to the Houston Press.

On paper, the proposal anticipates Houston ISD will save $2.5 million by taking back DAEP; but they expect to staff up for 76 new administrators, teachers, counselors, and undesignated support positions. Houston ISD estimated a $7.5 million annual budget with $2.6 million in start-up facility and technology infrastructure expenses, at most. They say existing funds allocated to the Camelot contract will cover program finances but actual DAEP funding will be determined at the board’s 2017-18 budget adoption process.

This decision to bring DAEP in-house also follows last year’s fiscal debacle where Houston ISD’s school board voted to borrow $212 million against a $211 million crater in their $1.9 billion 2012 bond package. It led to an independent audit to find out what went wrong, Breitbart Texas reported. Ultimately, they still wound up $107 million in the red because the district is considered property-wealthy and the state’s funding system requires them to return sizeable tax dollars to help property-poor school districts. This process, called “recapture,” is better known as “Robin Hood.” Yet, even with all this tumult, the board voted to spend another $1.25 million of its taxpayers’ dollars to swap out the Confederate-linked monikers of eight district campuses for more politically correct sounding names.

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