By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Chris Allen's mother was shot to death by her boyfriend. Chris has been in therapy since second grade; diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, major depression, anger-management and impulse-control issues, he qualified for special ed in the Fort Bend Independent School District. He was being re-evaluated when he transferred to HISD. The district never tested Chris until after he had been expelled and later sent to CEP.
Lamar Principal James McSwain wrote that Chris was transferred because of "serious and persistent misbehavior." Chris had 26 tardies, and reprimands for talking during class, walking in the halls without a permit, making insulting faces, taking two lunches and, finally, assaulting a police officer, which led to his expulsion in October 1996. Chris went to summer school and night school to make up for his lost junior-year credit.
Charles Randolph, his surrogate father, says Chris was taking his medication and was able to control himself. But during the senior pictures, Chris joined a few students in squirting water and was in possession of a disposable lighter; as punishment, he was sent to CEP.
A police officer and a guidance counselor had Chris sign himself out of school, without notifying his uncle (his legal guardian) or Charles, who was out of town. "Which is illegal," says Chris's attorney, Ayesha Mutope-Johnson. Chris's transfer paper from Lamar to CEP originally said that Chris was behind one grade level or more, but Charles spoke with officials and the form was changed (and backdated) to say that Chris was being sent to CEP because of major depression and his lack of impulse control. "They dumped him over there on a false document," Mutope- Johnson maintains.
At CEP it was determined that Chris qualified for federal disability funding because his mental impairment substantially limits his life and learning. Dr. Mary Jane Pearson -- the former special ed teacher who, as CEP's chief academic officer, designed most of the CEP curriculum nationwide -- wrote on the form that in light of this, Chris's placement in CEP needed to be re-evaluated. It never was.
While at CEP, Chris was arrested for minor offenses on campus three times in the course of two months. Each charge was dismissed. The third time Charles picked up his son from jail he decided Chris wasn't going back to CEP. "It exacerbated his condition," Charles says. "He should have been able to receive an education in the least restrictive environment."
Charles, an attorney and science teacher at HISD's Waltrip High School, retrieved Chris's assignments from CEP and taught Chris at home. Chris graduated with his class in the spring of 1998. "CEP is designed for you to drop out," Chris says.
Charles and Chris filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in November 1999. In response, HISD lawyers said that "because of CEP he was able to accelerate his education and graduate with his class." The case doesn't have a docket call until May 3, 2002.
Chris, now 22, started college at Prairie View A&M and took classes at Houston Community College, but his father says Chris has negative feelings toward the whole educational process, thanks to his experience at CEP. Before CEP, Chris had wanted to go to Howard University. "I got snatched out of school," Chris says. "I can't go to college." He's in a rap group called the Texas 7; their first album is titled Breakin' In.
"If you look for the snake, then the snake's gonna find you," Chris says. "Have you ever stepped on a snake's nest? People who do don't usually make it. That's what's happened to me."