The Houston Press
Michael Webb (R), shown here last year with
then-Interim Superintendent Ken Huewitt, is heading up a proposal for a
kinder, gentler approach to first-time juvenile offenders in HISD.
Courtesy of HISD
Moving away from a zero
tolerance policy that automatically sent first-time offenders found with
any amount of marijuana or alcohol to alternative school for 45 days,
the Houston ISD board of trustees is poised to vote Thursday night to
instead offer intervention.
impetus for the change is that one out of four students at Beechnut
Academy [the private alternative school whose contract with HISD ends
this month] are there for the first-time, under-the-influence offenses,
mainly for alcohol and marijuana. Those are 45-day placements,” said
Michael Webb, HISD director of social and emotional learning.
“What we’re trying to do is pivot the policy from placement to education,” Webb said.
of automatic removal to an alternative school – HISD is establishing
its own in-house alternative education school starting this fall –
students would be offered “education, assessment, and, if indicated,
community-based treatment alternatives for first-time drug or alcohol
offences as an alternative to a required Disciplinary Alternative
Education Program (DAEP) referral,” the proposed change reads.
would provide the schools resources to either provide awareness classes
to students or if there is more of a need, if a substance use disorder
had been identified, then we would refer the student to intervention
through community providers through our wrap-around network,” Webb
a student successfully completes the classes, the potential removal to
an alternative center would be waived altogether, he said. “If a student
is reluctant to participate or not successful, then the student would
be placed at a DAEP where we would be able to provide a very directed
intervention targeting substance abuse.”
When asked why the proposed change, Webb said:
we look at substance use, is it a discipline issue or a health issue or
is it both, and right now we’re treating it as a discipline issue.
We’ve provided minimal supports to address the health side. So whether
it was an impulsive decision and there’s not an addiction involved, the
awareness class would be appropriate, but if the student is trying to
conceal or hide an addiction or may be on that road, then we need to
address this as a cry for help and connect the student to an
intervention and not just place the student for 45 days at a DAEP.”
classes would be held before or after school and would not take away
from instructional time, he said. Students could also take the course
online in a two-week time frame, he said. Parental involvement would be
requested but not required since the district doesn’t want to penalize
kids whose parents are reluctant to participate.
students would also be able to avoid or cut short their terms at the
internal alternative school, Webb said, by engaging in a special program
this summer. Students would also be expected to make “restitution” by
completing certain activities and volunteering a certain number of hours
or by providing proof they have a job.
there’s 157 students who are projected to begin the school year at our
new internal DAEP. What we have not done in the past is offer students
whose time is rolled over into the next school year opportunities to
restore their time. We’ve identified about 100 students with lower-level
offenses; these are not students with weapons or drug distribution. And
we’re providing them with a series of activities to complete over the
summer. If they are successful, then we would be able to waive the
remainder of their time at the DAEP and they would start the school year
at their own campus.”
This proposal was developed after
meetings with and surveys of principals and teachers union
representatives as well as on input from the district’s student
congress, Webb said. There will be a centralized process to review all
the cases, but each school will be able to develop its own program, as
long as it implements something, Webb said.
policy would also realign the district’s drug offense levels to those
of the state. In recent years HISD had elevated many Level III offenses
to Level IV — at a higher level than even the state did, he said. And at
Level IV a principal has no discretion and the offender is
automatically removed to a DAEP.
Examples of the offenses
that HISD is proposing to move back to a Level III include drug
paraphernalia, bribery, extortion, possession of replica guns,
possession of ammunition and assault by contact, Webb said.
not saying that these are not severe. We’re not saying that these
aren’t safety risks to campuses. But what we are saying is we want to
give principals the latitude to consider the circumstances,” Webb said.
Along with all this would be reinforcing a change in policy voted on
last year: the end to one of the principals’ favorite tools – the
ability to tell a student who’s been acting up to just go home for the
day in an informal suspension. Now all suspensions will be formal, Webb
said, and the district plans to provide additional teacher training on
how to better deal with bad behavior.
sending the kid home, that doesn’t teach an alternate behavior. At the
maximum, that kid is coming back in three days. Suspension doesn’t teach
a kid a new behavior. It doesn’t teach a kid how to resolve a conflict.
It doesn’t teach a student on how to show empathy or respect. Basically
it’s just saying you do your time. In many cases, we’re not even asking
the kid to apologize for what he’s done. We’re just saying, ‘Do your
time and come back’ and then everything is good.”
district is even proposing fine-tuning the language in the Student Code
of Conduct. Right now, Level III carries with it the words: suspension
or DAEP placement. The district is amending that to say: targeted
intervention, restitution, suspension and/or optional DAEP placement.
“It doesn’t take those measures off the table; it just highlights the
importance of having a continuum of responses,” Webb said.
think it’s important that regardless of the level of offense that there
are factors that must be taken into consideration such as the age of
the student, whether the student has a disability, what the intent of
the student was before a decision is made.
“We have moved away from a zero tolerance policy.” *Update, June 9, 2017:
The HISD school board approved these proposals at its June 8 meeting.