180 Days in the Hole

HISD insists that kids sent to its alternative school should spend an entire year there, no matter what. What a crock.

According to the TEA's Jacobs, it is up to HISD to ensure the scholastic credibility of CEP. The TEA's involvement is to look at academics as they relate to TAAS scores. The TEA is also compiling data on why students in Texas are being removed from class and how long they are out, Jacobs says. Unfortunately, his findings support Jones's worst fears.

"We've discovered so far that the longer students are removed from certain programs, we see academic regression," Jacobs says.

Although HISD did not honor repeated Press requests to talk with Principal Lawson, the Fulks have a recording of their hearing with him. On tape, after Kirk Fulk expresses the concern that his son will be losing a year by going to CEP, Lawson responds: "The quality is not the same as in-house."

Kirk and Rayette Fulk are challenging the length of their son's sentence.
Margaret Downing
Kirk and Rayette Fulk are challenging the length of their son's sentence.

Challenged on the 180-day rule by Kirk Fulk, Lawson responds: "I don't see that I have a choice in the removal." Lawson says it is based on the 1997 contract with HISD. "Any student placed there is a 180-day placement. Principals have questioned that somewhat, but that is neither here nor there."

There is a certain dichotomy at work in the presentation of CEP for public consumption. While HISD board president Jeff Shadwick and CEP literature extol the 180-period as purely an academic need -- Shadwick in a letter asserts it is "not punishment related" -- this is not the message sounded by interim superintendent Stripling in her letter to Sadler. As Stripling puts it, one of the key CEP benefits is the message HISD sends to "all students": that they will be removed if they break the law or are disruptive. "As a result, student behavior and the general climate of HISD schools have improved….We feel that the CEP partnership has contributed in part to our record of progress."

Representative Sadler, in his education committee questions, appeared most appalled at the contract's guaranteed minimum enrollment. "If this was [the Department of Public Safety] and you were talking about speeding tickets, you would fill up this room with outraged citizens. Why isn't this a quota?"

CEP is supposed to be one option for HISD in dealing with flawed students, not the only option. But HISD administrators, educators and school board members have drawn a line in the sand. The golden number, the only number, is 180 days.

But now, some parents, some more influential parents, are screaming, saying hey, wait a minute, this defies common sense. It sure didn't pass the smell test for Sadler. The TEA's Billy Jacobs, while stressing that he must remain neutral, is obviously bothered by parts of it.

This kind of pressure then results in more accommodating statements, like the one Randle Richardson makes: "It's easy to change what we're doing. I don't think anybody intended to create a circumstance holding back an advanced placement student."

So, HISD, you might have to be less expeditious, less time-efficient, more available to reconsider what you are doing. Make sure CEP is all it's supposed to be. Get the kids into CEP who need it, for however long they need it, for however long it's helping more than harming. Then get them out.

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