Warehousing Minority Kids in Atlanta and Houston

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The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Georgia have filed a class action suit against the Community Education Partners alternative school there saying that CEP (which has two locations in Houston) “Does not function as a school at all, but rather as a warehouse for poor children of color.”

“Academics at the school are virtually non-existent and students are inadequately supervised. Violence is rampant,” the lawsuit says.

The Houston Press has written several stories over the years reporting the same findings about CEP’s two facilities here. Some other districts such as the Dallas ISD and Pasadena have dropped the private program which takes in students sent there after running into trouble at their home schools. But the Houston ISD continues to support CEP, through a succession of superintendents and school boards, saying it makes the home schools safer and rescues the kids sent to CEP from expulsion and life on the streets. And cash-strapped HISD has spent millions doing so.

The reality is that kids’ test scores drop at CEP, many critics have said. Robert Kimball, former assistant principal at Sharpstown High School, has done a study showing that the reality is many of the kids (almost all of them minorities) drop out rather than go to a place with computers for teachers, daily metal detector inspections and a motto of “Be Here, Behave, Be Learning.” The actuality is that most of the time both CEP and HISD lose track of the students who get caught up in this alternative punishment.

Finally the ACLU in Georgia is calling foul on it. Chara Jackson, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, told the Press they’d had complaints from parents and students for several years. The ACLU explored it further through community outreach, she said. “It really just got to the point where there were so many complaints and so many concerns that it was time for us to take action.”

Not all the kids who end up at CEP have done anything that bad. Too many truancies can land a kid there. It doesn’t really matter because once sent to CEP, kids end up stuck in there, not just for weeks or months but in some cases years as the Georgia lawsuit points out with specific examples. See CEP gets paid when it has kids, not when it gives them all up.

In the case of Atlanta, just as in the case of Houston, the local school district has handed over its job of educating its kids in an adequate manner to someone else. Both districts are paying a lot of money to have its “problems” disappear.

According to the ACLU, at the Atlanta CEP:

- Not a single child at the school made it to senior year in 2006

- There is a “no homework” policy and kids can’t take books home (also the policy and practice in Houston)

- In 2006-2007, 91.1 percent of students failed to achieve proficiency in math and 65.8 failed to achieve proficiency in reading on Georgia’s statewide competency tests.

- Most tellingly: other nearby alternative schools did a better job. While fewer than 23 percent of the CEP Atlanta students met or exceeded standards in all subjects, at two other alternative schools more than 50 percent did.

The Atlanta CEP accounted for 67.7 percent of all reported incidents of battery, 46 percent of all reported incidents of vandalism and 20 percent of all reported incidents of gun possession in the district.

“Parents and taxpayers deserve better than a system that simply funnels their children through a pathway to prison,” says Reggie Shuford, ACLU senior staff attorney.

It will be interesting to see if HISD trustees and Superintendent Abe Saavedra take any note of the Atlanta proceedings or continue to bury their collective heads in the sand or wherever it is they’ve been keeping them. – Margaret Downing

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