Wendy Hite – Mother of a 15-year-old Belton ISD 10th grade pre-AP honor roll student whose daughter while riding to school on the bus was asked by a friend if she would like to try some of her flavored water. Ms. Hite’s daughter didn’t think anything of it and took the bottle and tried the drink. After realizing it was not water she gave the bottle back and went on to school. The girl that brought the flavored water had actually brought a flavored drink containing alcohol. The girl that brought the alcohol proceeded in drinking the remainder of the bottle and once at school got sick. When questioned by school officials about the incident the girl then named Ms. Hite’s daughter as being a participant in drinking it with her while on the bus. After that conversation, Ms. Hite’s daughter was removed from class, given a sobriety test, questioned and made to sign a statement of guilt before Ms. Hite was called to come and pick her daughter up.
At first Belton ISD school officials stated their hands were tied and they were required to expel Ms. Hite’s daughter from school and place her in the school’s DAEP program for 80 days. Ms. Hite was also originally informed that she had no right to appeal her daughter’s punishment and according to BISD school officials the placement and number of placement days were mandatory under Texas state law. After consulting with Texas Zero Tolerance ~ a statewide organization of parents dedicated to the reform of zero tolerance, and the Texas Education Agency Ms. Hite decided to appeal her daughter’s punishment. After a meeting with the school’s head principal Ms. Hite was told that she could appeal her daughter’s punishment. Ms. Hite and BISD school officials all agreed that Ms. Hite’s daughter did not bring the alcohol, did not knowingly drink alcohol, and had no intention of drinking alcohol at school.
However school officials said that by holding the bottle that her friend gave her to drink that she was in possession of alcohol even though she did not know what was in the drink. Ms. Hite filed a level 1 appeal with the school principal which was denied. Ms. Hite then filed a level 2 appeal with the school district assistant superintendent requesting the punishment be shortened to 15 days from the original 80 day DAEP placement. The assistant superintendent did not shorten the punishment to the 15 days that Ms. Hite requested but did decide to shorten the length of DAEP placement to 45 days. Ms. Hite then filed a level 3 appeal which was denied because according to the school district the appeal was “incorrectly worded.” The 45-day DAEP placement stood.
Ms. Hite described the whole process as a “nightmare.” “We really were out of touch and had no idea what a DAEP was.” “No idea that our child would be taken out of school and sent somewhere to be treated like a criminal and searched every day.” No idea that because of this she would be unable to attend other family events.” “Our whole community was quite shocked that some thing like this was happening in their school district.”
Ms. Hite felt that her daughter’s school district lied to her on several matters pertaining to her daughter’s incident:
School district officials first told her that her daughter’s 80 day placement was mandatory under Texas State law. This is blatantly not true. No where in chapter 37 of the Texas Education code is there a requirement for an 80 day placement in an alternative school. In fact chapter 37 is quite plain on this issue ~ Chapter 37 states that no mandatory # of days is required for any offense except for a firearm offense which requires a one year expulsion period.
Ms. Hite was originally told by school officials that she had no right to appeal her daughter’s expulsion. This was also absolutely not true. By being able to appeal her daughter’s case Ms. Hite was successful in getting her daughter’s expulsion period shortened to 45 days instead of the original 80 day sentence that was imposed on her daughter.
Ms. Hite asked school officials if her daughter would be labeled a “bad kid” for having to attend the DAEP school. Ms. Hite was told by school officials that it is so common now days for children to be sent to alternative school that nobody would think anything differently of her daughter when she returned to her regular school. According to Ms. Hite this is patently false. Ms. Hite said her daughter was stigmatized by teachers, students, parents, and the community upon returning to her regular school.
Ms. Hite felt that justice was not served by what was done to her daughter and family all in the name of “zero tolerance.” School districts are allowed by the state to consider “intent” even in mandatory expulsion cases except for firearms. Belton ISD chooses not to consider intent and implements a blanket 80 day expulsion policy no matter what the child’s intent may be.
Ms. Hite’s husband is a 20-year veteran of the United Sates Army and is currently serving our country in Iraq. Ms. Hite found it ironic that the tyranny her husband is fighting against in Iraq is being implemented by our schools right in our own nation, “We have thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan helping to liberate those countries from draconian laws just like the ones that are being purported on our own children in our country.” “School officials have no consideration about how something like this affects the child or the family.” “It is a disgrace and we are allowing it to happen in our very own backyard.”