Mind Reading

Is Yvette Lacobie really a terrorist? Did legislators really mean to kick kids out for a butter knife? Is zero tolerance really stupid? (No, maybe and yes.)

She is also a longtime supporter of Community Education Partners -- often a target for opponents of alternative schools for its history of noncertified teachers and habit of teaching by computer -- and insists that it does provide a quality education.

Others aren't so sure on that last point. In fact, right now one of the most effective tools HISD has for keeping kids in line is threatening them with a stay at CEP. And kids will tell you, administrators are using that.

Yvette Lacobie, booted from Bellaire High, is taking 
classes at Houston Community College.
Daniel Kramer
Yvette Lacobie, booted from Bellaire High, is taking classes at Houston Community College.

Whether anything will change, in fact, is still up in the air. In contrast to Olivo and Lindsay, there's Representative Kent Grusendorf, a Republican from Arlington, whose House Bill 316 would make it a crime for a student to miss one day of school. Just one unexcused absence and the kid and his parents can be ticketed. The present policy is ten days in a six-month period.

And he may be able to get it through. Grusendorf is chair of the Public Education Committee in the House.

Another bill to watch out for is House Bill 158 from State Representative Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford. It would exempt exemplary districts from disciplinary reporting requirements to the state. Troublemakers could be shuffled off right and left to alternate education without anyone looking.

Olivo is asking the state to step back and take another look at the same time Texas has significantly cut funding for alternative programs from $18 million to $5 million a year. That's not going to mean any improvements.

Still, there have been some victories. Katy ISD responded to an overload of criticism. The use of on-campus alternative education switched back to in-school suspension. Previously, students might have been eligible for early return to the home school after 50 days. Now reviews are done at 30, 45 and 60 days.

Campus administrators are encouraged to make greater use of detentions rather than sending kids to in-school suspension or other alternative education that takes them out of class.

Most important, "students who unintentionally bring a prohibited item (that is not an illegal item) will not be disciplined if they turn in the item to a responsible adult immediately on discovery of the prohibited item."

And in a striking blow for something or other, flip-flops no longer will be prohibited.

Yvette Lacobie didn't go to CEP or Virtual School. She's being homeschooled and taking some Houston Community College courses. "I have to keep her looking forward," her father says.

Her father wasn't quite sure Virtual School was kosher. It's interesting that one of the district's better schools like Bellaire is offering this option, sparing students a tour at CEP. And also sparing high school officials the screams of outrage from more affluent parents when their children are ordered there.

Yvette Lacobie went to a good school and was a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, the swim team and her church choir, where she plays piano.

Parents hold these things as talismans. Extracurriculars and good grades seem to offer protections and assurances that will guarantee their children safe passage as they negotiate their teenage years.

But of course, they are nothing of the sort. A moment's lapse, a silly mistake, and it all is rendered quite beside the point.

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