Learning How to Survive (at) CEP

HISD and a paid trustee get entangled in the spreading empire of a private firm touting safe alternative schools for troubled kids. So why are some students and parents so scared?

The other day a student went to school under the influence of approximately 10 … Xanax pills and was stumbling around (the) classroom and falling asleep and the teacher did nothing even after being told by other students what he was on. The only thing they did was write him up for sleeping until he had a bowel movement on the restroom floor. And the only thing they did was make him clean it up and the teacher (an ex-cop) looked at it as a joke and let him sleep the rest of the day.

Nurse (does nothing at all)

Abusive language: cussing at us when we get in minor trouble

Joseph has to take pills to get the courage to attend CEP's school.
Deron Neblett
Joseph has to take pills to get the courage to attend CEP's school.

We can't ever use a phone to get a hold of a parent (even when throwing up or sick)

The teachers (and some other lady) call us little girls for no reason.

…gave us about 5 minutes at the most to eat and when someone burped, everyone had to throw their food away and go to class.

The unorganization of the whole school. EX: giving me subjects I already passed. Not knowing what subjects I need. Not knowing how to help or do the work I need help on or sometimes I'll figure out the answer and the teacher won't have any idea.

A kid got punched by a staff member for not handing her his sweater.

A student got large scratches on (his) neck put there intentionally by (a) staff member

Teachers are telling us to "shut the fuck up" constantly. -- Letter from a CEP student to Judge George Risner

By today, school is out this year in Texas, and CEP operates for only two weeks during the summer. Different HISD and CEP officials talk about adjusting the CEP program by next fall. They speak of doing away with the automatic 180 days or redesigning the curriculum a bit or bringing in more teachers for more interpersonal contact.

None of the parents suing HISD dispute the placement of their children at CEP. They are objecting to the 180 days, which is not outlined in the student code of conduct. "The average referral in Texas is 26 days. This 180-day referral is way out of line," says their attorney, Les Cassidy, a native Houstonian now practicing law in Corpus Christi. "The contractual relationship between CEP and HISD is taking priority over the needs of individual students," Cassidy says.

As for the types of services that CEP is providing, Cassidy says the Texas Education Code has a requirement that funding for alternative education programs should be similar to regular classes. "HISD may be budgeting the same amount, but you don't know how much is pulled out in profit and how much is actually going to the students at CEP."

And, Cassidy asks, "How is it that you can ever make a private corporation accountable for public funds?" Cassidy, who was president of the Corpus Christi branch of the American Civil Liberties Union for two years, says he is opposed to school vouchers in general, and "I think that CEP is the worst of what vouchers could become."

School board member Laurie Bricker is a strong supporter of CEP but believes that the 180-day minimum sentence may change. "The punishment should fit the crime." She says that even Gayle Fallon would agree that opt-out possibilities should be explored for students sent to CEP for lesser offenses or needs. "…If you meet certain criteria for attendance and academic performance and discipline, perhaps the days can be shortened.

It seems likely this will happen. Richardson now says CEP has proposed a change in accordance with state code. Any student on grade level who shows behavioral improvement would get a review for a return to his home campus before 180 days.

Bricker would also like to see an LEP (limited English proficiency) program, as well as advanced placement and honors courses.

Another change Bricker wants is a more structured special ed component, meaning she wants to make sure there's appropriate evaluation and "psychoeducational diagnostic tests" to make sure that placement is correct.

All this sounds good and hopeful, just like the message Brenda Jones got a few weeks ago when she was told her son would be part of a pilot project for more advanced students at CEP. A week later the new acting school principal at Beechnut told her CEP wouldn't have the resources for that this year, maybe next. A week later, in a meeting with the Press, Gordon Anderson said there was no need for a pilot project, that all their material was already on grade level and perfectly suitable for any and all CEP students.

Representative Hochberg makes a crucial distinction about CEP. "It is not a juvenile justice facility. If there are students there causing harm to other students, they should be in the JJAEP, not there. If there are staff members causing harm, they should be out."

Joyce Deion, mother of a son at CEP and a frequent protesting buddy of Brenda Jones's, says HISD's arrangement with CEP is "good intentions gone bad." She does see some hope ahead.

"They're not gonna be the same anymore. They're gonna change. They're either gonna get better at hiding their mistakes or make some changes. They're under the microscope."

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