After coming home with failing grades in some of his classes, seventh-grader Chris McCree started after-school tutoring at Judice Middle School in February. The same week, he was expelled.
He was to complete the next 180 school days at the school district’s alternative site, Lerosen Preparatory School, for having a lighter in his backpack and allegedly being in possession of marijuana. It wasn’t found on him, but on another student, who said he got it from Chris.
But Lerosen couldn’t accommodate more students in his grade level on campus due to the ongoing teacher shortage and small class size requirements for an alternative school, so Chris was assigned to complete classes virtually.
The middle-schooler’s mom, Tiera Flugence, said she requested that her son physically attend school in-person, because the classes at home were not meeting his academic needs.
The online version of school is conducted through Edgenuity, which provides pre-recorded videos and classwork to complete remotely. Flugence said this was not a good fit for her 12-year-old. Their attorney, Shelly Maturin, called it “a substandard education experience.”
Even in-person, she questioned whether the alternative school was the best environment for her son. She was concerned her son, who seems quiet and shy, might be influenced at this impressionable age.
“He’s already trying to figure out the type of person he’s trying to be,” Flugence said.
Part of a bigger, ongoing conversation
Flugence isn’t the only one worried about whether an alternative site is the best response to discipline violations. Chris’ story highlights a broader conversation.
Researchers have found that youth who are suspended or expelled are at a greater risk for academic failure, school drop-out and incarceration and that despite widespread use, disciplinary exclusions are largely ineffective in reducing problem behaviors.
A 2008 policy paper out of Baltimore stated that the rate of students who have been suspended on multiple occasions ranges between 35% and 42% of all students, suggesting that suspensions don’t serve as a deterrent for misbehavior and may reinforce these behaviors.
Disciplinary action in schools is a national discussion that’s been going on for decades and is by no means unique to one city or one student.
Lerosen is one of about 30 alternative schools in Louisiana and Chris just one of hundreds of students attending them, according to Department of Education performance score and enrollment data.
Such schools tend to be set up with smaller class sizes than traditional schools and to have more support staff, like counselors and social workers, on campus, as is the case at Lerosen, according to district officials.
As the Lafayette Parish School System’s alternative school, students who are suspended or expelled from school are transferred to Lerosen Preparatory for a time. Its website describes the school as a place designed to give students who are removed from their traditional school setting for disciplinary violations an opportunity to continue their education and work on creating and/or improving habits that lead to academic and personal success.
Chris spent about eight weeks enrolled at the alternative school before his expulsion was cut short by the Lafayette Parish School Board. He recently returned to Judice Middle, in-person, after at least 50 days out of school and a public appeal hearing before the school board.
‘We should have caught this before today’
Several board members expressed concern about Chris’ grades as much as the alleged behavior violation. His grades had fallen well before the incident. The seventh-grader had begun after-school tutoring at Judice the week he was expelled, his mom said.
Looking at records provided to school board members, District 3 representative Elroy Broussard noted two subjects in which good grades had dropped to F’s.
“We should have caught this before today,” Broussard said.
Kate Labue and other board members said they hope this will serve as an opportunity or call to action to support Chris in his academics and his well-being, propelling him forward in a positive way.
“He’s already learned a valuable lesson,” Maturin said. “Staying at Lerosen would hinder more than help. This is truly doing harm to this child. He needs to be in a school setting learning from a live teacher.”
The board voted 7-1 to end Chris’ expulsion March 14, the last day before spring break, which allowed him to return to Judice on Monday rather than being expelled for the full 180 days he initially received.
“This could be an experience that could change your life forever,” board member Mary Morrison said to Chris. “I’m asking you to not get involved in those bad things because it brings you nowhere.”
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Lafayette student’s expulsion highlights bigger concern about discipline