March 6, 2009

Ignoring Our Country’s Most Vulnerable Population

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While most take for granted obtaining a high school education without cost, some are deprived of this opportunity. In Mississippi, children attending alternative schools face abusive treatment and fail to receive an adequate education regardless of the fact that they are among the country’s most vulnerable population. Most of the children attending alternative schools have special needs and are African Americans, neither of which are justifiable reasons for mistreatment or discriminatory action.

According to a recent report released by the American Civil Liberties Union, the alternative school system has seen a 23% increase in enrollment within the past few years. With the purpose of keeping vulnerable kids on track to graduate high school, the system tends to push the students in the wrong direction as they become involved in the criminal justice system. Most of the schools in this system use harsh punishment in place of less severe reprimands found in a typical public school. Evidently, this method is not working as expected because it is coupled with inadequate educational requirements. For example, in one county of Mississippi 36% of students dropped out within their first year at the school. Source

Much of the failure rate associated with alternative schools stems from the fact that the schools disobey state educational requirements by following a curriculum that does not teach the appropriate material. Furthermore, the kids reported rarely receiving homework, sleeping while in class, and having reoccurring shortened school days. This undoubtedly places the children in a situation that will make their conditions worse and deprives them of the necessary accommodations for successfully obtaining an education. When considering that many children placed in this system have behavioral or learning disorders, it becomes difficult to determine the appropriate measure for handling this type of situation.

The State of Mississippi states that alternative schools were created to provide struggling students with different options for obtaining a high school diploma. Nonetheless, dropout rates continue to climb for students in this system and many are sucked into engaging in criminal activity. According to Jamie Dycus, an attorney for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, “Unfortunately, because too many alternative schools focus primarily on simply punishing and isolating misbehaving students, downward cycles that some kids may find themselves on are only exacerbated”. Source

With our country dependent on younger generations, providing sufficient educational opportunity is of focal concern. The existence of a school system that deprives children with special needs a proper education is an embarrassment for a country of such significant wealth and prestige. Surely children with behavioral disorders and special needs deserve the same opportunities and treatment as everyone else in their generation.