Letting Go

HISD settles with parents over CEP punishments

While the Student Code of Conduct talks about punishments for infractions, nowhere does it say that if a student is sent to CEP it will be for 180 days. That's part of the contract between CEP and HISD, a contract is not distributed to parents and students. As Jacobs puts it, questions have been raised "that may indicate a conflict between the approved and published local policy and the requirements of the local district under the agreement."

In his letter, Jacobs also says HISD has been underreporting the actual number of students sent to its alternative programs. "It was discovered that no students were reported enrolled in the Houston ISD's DAEP as continuations from the previous years' assignment." What this may mean is that while figures are gathered for average lengths of stays, instead of counting a previous year's 40 or 80 days, the count is zero-based on day one of the new year. The letter says Stripling is being asked to help straighten out the numbers.

And Jacobs clears up one other little matter. Previously it had been said the average stay for kids in Texas alternative facilities was 25 or 26 days. Actually, Jacobs writes, the state average is 18. Which would make HISD's punishment -- 180 days -- ten times the state average.

Brenda Jones says a judge found that HISD wasn't following its own disciplinary handbook.
Deron Neblett
Brenda Jones says a judge found that HISD wasn't following its own disciplinary handbook.

HISD's buddy CEP hasn't fared so well this summer, either. Just as school started last week, Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Moses held students there out of CEP because of a breakdown in contract negotiations. Instead, nearly 700 students were sent to DISD alternative schools.

As reported in The Dallas Morning News, Moses, whose district has been beset with financial problems, wants to trim the $50-million, five-year contract with CEP. He has criticized its academic program and said its enrollment of about 1,000 students at the end of last school year didn't justify its cost. In that article, CEP's chief executive officer Randle Richardson says CEP has agreed to cut costs by at least $3 million, as Moses wants.

Education representatives from Ohio and San Francisco, where CEP is supposedly courting new business, have been making inquiries in Houston. Some of the Dallas school board members have joined the superintendent in questioning CEP's operations. Yet, HISD digs in even further in its support.

An amended contract with CEP will be voted on at a school board meeting August 30, says Heather Browne, HISD spokeswoman. What's on the table can't be released yet, she says.

HISD also has been busy rewriting its code of conduct, something uncovered during the hearing before Judge Brown.

At one point in the hearing, Jones and Fulk say, Brown said that it was clear that HISD wasn't following its own handbook. To which Bracewell & Patterson attorney Merri Schneider-Vogel reportedly replied something to the effect that "Well, your Honor, we're fixing it now; the district is in the middle of rewriting the handbook." Ouch. Talk about things better left unsaid.

Anyhow, the judge asked for a copy of the draft, which now became part of the proceeding. And from a quick reading of it, it appears HISD is densely and pedantically attempting to shore up any nasty loopholes and making it even easier for it to bring in more kids in order to meet its 2,500-students-a-year goal for CEP.

As an example: In the draft version a serious offense might now be a finding that a student had engaged in a Level III offense.

Clearing up that little problem of a formal "finding" the proposed verbiage now reads, somewhat redundantly, "A finding that a student has engaged in any conduct listed under Level IV or Level V constitutes a finding that the student has engaged in serious misbehavior." And the two-point findings that principals like Lawson were previously being asked to make have a line drawn through them in the draft. No need for discretion. Apparently no need for a principal.

It's pretty clear in reading the claims and counterclaims filed in this case that HISD seriously engaged in a reinterpretation of history. It's also pretty funny.

OK, yes, board president Jeff Shadwick did write to Brenda Jones that the 180-day period "is not punishment related but academics related." According to the Fulks and the Joneses, this shows the extended term was a contractual accommodation to meet CEP's curriculum preference. HISD's response? "There is no indication in the letter that Mr. Shadwick was writing on behalf of the entire board."

Yes, some internal memos show Assistant Superintendent Faye Bryant sent out a memo to HISD high school principals prohibiting students from leaving CEP and returning to their home schools. "It has come to my attention that some HISD schools are inviting CEP students back to their campuses prior to the end of the 180 day stay at CEP. Students must remain enrolled at CEP for the entire 180 days. You must not enroll any student who has not completed this mandatory stay."

But, says the HISD side in response, Bryant was just trying to stop principals who were bringing back kids to up their average daily attendance numbers and get more money for their schools. This does not mean, they argue, that there was any mandatory 180-day stay.

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