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Monday, May 7, 2018

Are Alternative Schools Their Own Form of Separate and Unequal Schooling? Barbara Fedders Says Yes

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
April 30, 2018

Barbara Fedders' new article, Schooling at Risk, 103 Iowa L. Rev. 871 (2018), draws interesting parallels between school segregation and the way alternative schools operate.

She writes:

"School districts typically have broad discretion in deciding whether a student is sufficiently 'at risk' to require assignment to an AEP [Alternative Education Placement]. In addition, while districts may have policies governing placement decisions, most do not afford students due process protections before making the assignment.

The largely unbounded discretion school districts enjoy in making AEP assignments makes room for biased decision-making. The students who attend AEPs are overwhelmingly students of color (African American in particular), from low-income families, and with disabilities. North Carolina data are illustrative. In 2013–2014, for example, Black students received 46% of all AEP placements, even though they made up only were 26% of the total student population.”

In addition, students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be assigned to AEPs, and to stay in the programs for longer durations than their nondisabled counterparts. AEPs are also disproportionately comprised of economically disadvantaged students."

She also takes on the qualitatively inferior education opportunities these schools provide,

"Most AEPs do not look like typical schools. Only 37% of AEPs are housed within regular schools or are separate schools; the rest are housed within other facilities. 17% of the non-school-based group utilize online instruction as the sole means of education—regardless of students’ ability or need.

For students in school-based AEPs, books may be unavailable, and extracurricular opportunities are typically nonexistent. In Georgia, the state houses AEP programs in poor-quality buildings that formerly served as schools for Black students during the time of de jure segregation."

The major contribution of Fedders' work is to help us see what lies in plain sight and reframing. No one seriously argues that alternative schools provide anything resembling the quality of education that exists in regular public schools. Yet, we accept it because these schools are, after all, for the "bad" kids.

As she writes,

"The perception that AEP students are less deserving is further reflected in the statutes and regulations that govern them." And everyone with eyes also knows that, in most places, these schools are primarily for African American students.

Fedders puts these together in a way that we have long ignored.

Fedders' also reveals that this is not a small problem. To the contrary, we are talking about half a million students a year. But even were it a smaller number, the fact that we run a separate and unequal education system tells us something potentially far more troubling.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote that you can judge "[t]he degree of civilization in a society . . . by entering its prisons." Fedders helps us see that we can judge the degree of equal opportunity in education by entering alternative schools--something we should have asked years ago.

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