By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
She looks at a picture of her son sitting in a Morticia Addams wicker chair with a huge grin on his face. "Then he smiled a lot," she says. "He stopped." Her son earned straight A's in a small private school, entering Lamar with plans to follow his brother's footsteps into the prestigious IB program -- except he didn't go to class. Instead, he sat in the gym with his friends waiting for the bell to ring. He never left campus, but he never was where he was supposed to be. "I'd drop him off at school, and he wasn't going," Joyce says.
Joyce tried to send her son (who didn't want his name used in this article) to military school, but that was harder than she thought. "It used to be they wanted kids like him that didn't like school and needed some regimentation, some structure, some discipline," she says. But the military school said he needed to behave at another school first; she tried to enroll her son at the Contemporary Learning Center, but it was full.
She pulled her son out of Lamar for two weeks while she searched for other options; friends whose children had gone to CEP told her to keep her son out of there at all costs. Exasperated, she called CEP. An official there said they had been looking for her son; Lamar had gone ahead and transferred him and he was truant.
The first day she took him to CEP, "he didn't like it," she says. "He tried to follow me out to the parking lot." But she told him he needed the closed campus; she thought if nothing else, he'd go to class. Joyce says her son messed up and needed to be punished, but then she found out that he wasn't being educated. His math teacher argued with him that the denominator does not go in the bottom of the fraction (it does) and he was given simplistic math word problems: Sally has seven bikes and John has nine. Together how many do they have? "Those are kindergarten problems," Joyce says. Her son had already earned an A in algebra. Every time Joyce called the school she got a busy signal or an answering machine. "I kept calling and calling, leaving crazy messages," she says.
When she finally met with CEP administrators to talk about her son, they told her that he was skipping school. Sometimes he didn't get fingerprinted (a daily morning ritual for all CEP students) when he was there, so they counted him absent; other days he just didn't take the bus after his mom left for work. (CEP told the Press that it has a very stringent attendance policy and that if a student does not show up for school, officers pick the child up. That didn't happen.)
They said her son did all his book work, but he wasn't doing his computer work. "Because we have to fight to get to the computer," her son says. "There's 12 computers and there's 30 kids, and of the 12 computers, only two work." His teacher told Joyce her son couldn't earn credit without doing his computer tasks, but the teacher admitted that some of the students had smashed the computers and so they didn't work. "They should educate the students," Joyce says. "Right now they're just incarcerating."