By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Arbitrator Hightower, who did not return repeated calls from the Press, wrote in his review of Cara's case that the administration has the responsibility of preserving the safety of everyone in the district "by keeping controlled substances and dangerous drugs away from its campuses."
The family went to Austin and met with legislator Goodman, who told them this law was not intended for students like Cara. Reporting this statement to the Klein school board made no difference, her father says.
Now Cara is in a private school, biding her time until she can go to public high school in January.
The school district enhanced her offense to a third-degree felony because it happened on school property. Toni had a juvenile hearing before state District Judge Pat Shelton, who indicated he didn't feel she belonged at JJAEP, Roberts says. Even though Roberts told Klein of Shelton's comments, KISD officials would not shorten her expulsion. Marlene says a JJAEP administrator asked her what she was doing to get her daughter out of there. Despite the fact that JJAEP officials told Klein it would not be penalized for returning Toni before the minimum limitation time, they did not.
The district argued that the Memorandum of Understanding between it and the county sets a clear minimum on when a student has to be there. But Roberts argued that students like Toni shouldn't be held to those minimums.
Conceding that there was a contradiction in its own handbook -- in one part it states that Toni's type of expulsion would be limited to the last school year -- KISD said only that it would change the handbook to match the wording elsewhere, calling for expulsion though the fall semester.
Toni suffers from chronic depression, which Roberts says was obvious to the teachers at her school because of her writings. Following her expulsion, she began isolating herself and cutting herself, Roberts says. She is on antidepressants and going to a private therapist.
Whatever the costs of her extended stay at JJAEP, the Klein district is paying for none of it.
Actually, Toni is the only one of the four to have reached an accommodation at JJAEP. She likes the teachers, for the most part, and her mother believes she is safe there. "Academically, of course, that's another story," her mother says dryly.
Although Klein insists its hands are tied, that it is only doing what it must, across the board others say that isn't so. The district's own policy provides for a superintendent's discretion. And it is apparently invoked at least some of the time. Roberts found out about the case of a middle school boy found with marijuana and Adderall. He was taken to the police station in handcuffs, but ended up serving his five-month suspension at the Annex, the district's in-house alternative facility located next to Klein High School. Two girls found with felony drugs were sent to the Annex for short times.
The district's response from then-associate superintendent Jim Cain (now the superintendent) was that Klein had handled the cases appropriately. And, of course, he could not discuss them because of confidentiality issues.
Goodman says he has looked at some of the cases being contested with Klein and "if their stories are anywhere near right, in my opinion this is just totally inappropriate.
"They're not serving the kids, and they're not serving their other students by doing this."
At this point, he is resigned to legislating change in the next session, not because he wants to, but because he sees no way around it.
So what do these Klein parents want? All thought their daughters should be punished; none to this extent. All called for a better drug education program in Klein; until this year it stopped after fifth grade. Now there is a program in place called "Wise Up." All scoffed at the notion that announcing the penalties for offenses over the public address system one day at school makes for an effective antidrug policy.
On one semi-bright note, Anna is now back in school at the Annex. This came after Roberts filed a motion for a stay put order with the Texas Education Agency, arguing that Anna was denied due process in her expulsion. Roberts and KISD reached an agreement that allows Anna to stay on campus until her case is heard by the TEA.
Other districts initially went too far with zero tolerance and got blasted for it in the media, Goodman says. "They would call me and say they have to do this. And they don't have to do that. I've had multiple conversations with attorneys throughout the state, and we've pulled up the code and walked through it.
"Nobody from Klein has contacted me.
"They wanted the discretion, they got the discretion, and now they're abusing the discretion. And that's not what they need to be doing. They need to be thinking about the best interests of the child."