While riding to school on the bus, a friend from our neighborhood asked my daughter if she would like to try some of her new flavored water. She agreed, took the bottle and tried it. After realizing it was not water and was in fact alcohol, she gave the bottle back and went on to school. The girl that brought the alcohol proceeded in drinking the remainder of the bottle and once at school got sick. When questioned about the incident she then named my daughter as being a participant in drinking it with her while on the bus. After that conversation, my daughter was removed from class, given a sobriety test, questioned and made to sign a statement of guilt before I was called to come and pick her up. This incident resulted in a 3 day suspension and an 80 day DAEP placement.
The incident occurred on Friday, November 16, 2007 which was just before the Thanksgiving holiday. We were called in to speak with the sophomore principal who told us of the punishment and then we also had to attend a placement hearing later that day. During the initial meeting the principal explained what had happened and what the punishment would be. We stated we did not agree with that decision but was told we would need to come back later that afternoon for a formal hearing. In this hearing we were told that she would be suspended for 3 days and placed in the local DAEP for 80 successful school days. We were told that the placement, and number of placement days was mandatory under Texas state law. We were told that we had no right to appeal and that their hands were tied. We then made an appointment with the head principal and she agreed to meet with us. She informed us that we did have the right to appeal and would consider the meeting as such. Even though we were all in agreement that our daughter had no intention of drinking at school, they still said by holding the bottle she was in possession of alcohol and the principal of BHS later denied our Level 1 appeal and let the punishment stay. We then proceeded to a Level 2 appeal. We came much better prepared, stated our case and asked that the punishment be shortened to 15 days in the DAEP. In the Level 2 appeal we met with the Assistant Superintendent and in his decision he gave our daughter credit for an extra day that was being counted as absent and shortened the number of placement days to 45 successful school days. After this, we then proceeded with a Level 3 appeal. This was sent to the Superintendent of Schools with the intention of meeting with the school board. Due to “incorrect wording” we were told we would not be able to meet with the school board but did get to have a personal meeting with her to discuss it. The 45 day placement stood and my daughter finally returned to BHS on February 13, 2008.
Let me start by saying this has been a devastating process for our family. We are a military family, and had just moved here from a 3 year overseas assignment where our children attended the local host schools. This is our daughter’s first year in an American high school. Her father who has been in the Army for over 20 years was getting ready to deploy and during this process has since deployed to Iraq for 15 months. In the beginning of this we were lied to. There is no other way to say it. The school administration knew the truth but lied to suit their agenda. The sophomore principal was rude and condescending and had no sympathy or regard for what he was doing. He was not aware of the procedures in place and during the formal hearing and appeal the other staff as well as the head principal just blindly followed his lead without question. We all agreed from the beginning that our daughter did not bring the alcohol, did not drink it knowingly, and had no intention of drinking at school. They said chapter 37 made it mandatory to put her in the DAEP and keep her there for 80 successful school days. That was untrue. When we left that office we felt like there was nothing we could do. It was only after we investigated Chapter 37 and called TEA and Texas Zero Tolerance that we found out that not only was this not true, but that BISD was in violation of several issues with Chapter 37. In our meeting with the BHS principal, we informed her of these violations as well as the mistruths her staff had given us and even then she chose to uphold the original decision and cover up as much as possible. She left out several things in our Level 1 appeal that we discussed and then tried to accuse our daughter of holding the bottle several times based on a bus video. We were not allowed to see that video, we were not given a copy of the FNG local. All the information on how to handle this we had to do on our own.
Going into the Level 2 appeal, we were much better prepared. A copy of the appeal letter and all attachments was sent to the Assistant Superintendent as well as the president and the two at large members of the school board. This definitely got attention. We established that they were in violation of Chapter 37.001a5 and also Chapter 37.005. This appeal was handled very professionally and as I stated above resulted in the time being reduced to 45 days and credit given for a day that was being counted as an unexcused absence. The school district maintains that while vague, their Code of Conduct maintains the law. We were also given the appropriate information and forms to file a Level 3 appeal.
Even though the time passed was almost at the 45 days mark, we felt it was necessary to go forward with the Level 3 appeal. This was sent to the Superintendent of Schools and the goal was to be able to attend the school board meeting to discuss it openly and go on record with the complaint. In this appeal it was stated that we felt the original principal that handled this as well as the BHS principal be reprimanded and made to take classes to learn how to better handle these situations as well as dealing with students and parents. The superintendent felt that we did not word the appeal letter correctly so therefore we would not be able to meet with the school board and let them hear our case. Instead she chose a private meeting. She did not want this brought before the school board so it would be public knowledge. This meeting lasted almost 3 hours. The final appeal letter we received stated that we had decided this did not need to be brought before the school board. That was untrue, since we were told from the beginning we would not be allowed to meet with them. Our goal was to meet with the school board and that is why we proceeded with the Level 3 appeal. We were denied that opportunity.
In conclusion let me say this. This whole process has been 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 or plays or programs of her siblings. We were not alone. Everyone was quite shocked at what we were telling them was happening in the school districts. Our daughter, who was then 15, WAS an honor roll student. I repeat WAS. She was in the gifted and talented program all through her elementary years in this same school district as well as a neighboring district before we moved away. She is taking AP and Pre-AP classes now. We asked in the beginning if her grades would suffer and we were told no. That was the first lie. Her grades have suffered tremendously and still have not been corrected. Her transcripts had not been completed when all of this started and the call was given to have them completed ASAP. Since they were from a foreign school and they were unclear how to process them correctly she was just given a grade. The result from this will have a direct impact on the rest of her high school academic career and she will not be as competitive for future scholarships. We asked if she would be labeled as a bad kid for being sent to the DAEP. We were told it was so common these days that nobody would think anything differently. That was lie number 2. There is a stigma from teachers, students, parents and the community associated with DAEP kids and they are all lumped in the same classes no matter why there are there. It was very difficult for her to make friendships in a new community as a result of this. Lie number 3 was the 80 day placement policy. This is not a Texas state law, but a school district policy. It is not in writing. Every placement to the DAEP in BISD is an 80 successful day placement. Even though we asked in all three levels of appeal, we were never given a copy of this policy. That is a violation of Chapter 37.
Chapter 37 is very clear. Thanks to REP Eissler and many others, Texas school districts are given the ability to use INTENT in their decision to place kids in a DAEP setting. This is provided even on the violations that require a mandatory placement. BISD chooses not to use intent in their placements. Again, it is 80 days across the board.
This story did not have to be here. Had the original staff used common sense and judgment all of this could have been prevented. The law could have easily been satisfied with a one day placement. It is just easier for them to ship kids off and they would rather treat children as criminals than use good judgment. They have no consideration about how it will affect the child or the family. It’s a disgrace and we are allowing it to happen. Do not be afraid to stand up and say something. Standing up for your child is never wrong.
As a final thought………. we have thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan helping to liberate those countries from laws the very same as these. Yet, we are allowing it to go on in our very own back yard all over the country. Ironic isn’t it?
Thanks to TZT, Voice of Truth, Rep Eissler and TEA for all the work they are doing. Without you there would be no change.