By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
KEMPNER – Lampasas Independent School District officials didn't force Jonathan Harris through the cracks.
But he believes they gave him a nudge.
The 15-year-old student withdrew from the district three weeks ago because he could not find a ride to school.
"I'm separated from the people that I know, and I'm stuck here. I need a life," said Jonathan, frustrated and unexpectedly soft-spoken.
The high school freshman with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was banned from riding a bus to and from school last month after being placed in an alternative disciplinary program at Lampasas High School.
Jonathan lives in Kempner – 14 miles from the school. His mother, Rebecca Grieco, is prohibited from driving because of her epilepsy, and her live-in fiancé leaves for work at 5:30 a.m. every day.
Unable to find a consistent ride to LHS, Grieco pulled Jonathan out of the district to avoid the hefty fines assessed for each day her son is absent.
Grieco pleaded with district officials to make some kind of special accommodations for her son, but they refused.
"Lampasas High School does not seem concerned about it whatsoever," Ellis Grenier, Grieco's fiancé, said outside the family's home last Friday. "They have a policy book, and that's the only thing that matters."
Jonathan will likely lose all his credits for the current school year. He plans to leave school when he turns 16 in October to join the Job Corps.
Grieco dropped out of high school at 16 years old. Now it seems her son will, too.
"This is what it's pushed him to," Grieco said.
LISD Assistant Superintendent Tony Peter said that although he's sympathetic to the family's situation, district policy does not allow alternative school students to ride the bus. The policy was created to ensure a safe environment for the other students.
"There are a lot of behavioral links to school buses. However students act in classrooms is often carried onto the bus. That's kind of scary," Peter said.
The small, rural district does not have the resources to provide a separate form of transportation, he said.
But Grieco insists adjustments should be made for students with disabled parents.
"They're denying him an education because of my disability," Grieco said.
The Disciplinary Alternative Education Program is a program for students who have committed a range of offenses including repeated truancy, class disruptions, drug possession or bomb threats.
It is located adjacent to the regular high school campus, and separates students in the DAEP from students in the regular program. No student in DAEP is placed in an unsupervised setting.
According to the LISD Student Code of Conduct, once a student is placed in the DAEP program, "district transportation is not provided, and parents are responsible for making sure students attend while assigned. Failure to attend the DAEP is a violation of compulsory attendance laws, and students and parents may be prosecuted for failure to attend while assigned."
Threat to others?
Jonathan was sentenced to 26 days in the DAEP after multiple office referrals for profanity, tardiness and skipping class. The last straw came when he made an inappropriate gesture to a teacher.
Peter said he could not comment on the family's personal situation. The district does not provide any transportation accommodations for DAEP students in special circumstances, he said.
He called the school bus "an extension of the classroom," and insisted that allowing students in the DAEP program to ride the bus poses a threat to the other passengers.
Peter then posed the question: Where would the district ever draw the line?
"There are consequences and policies put in place to have some kind of parameters for everyone to work with, including transportation," he said.
"I wish we could always work with everybody in every single situation, but my goodness. I know people still get to Wal-Mart somehow. Or people get to their job place."
The district receives about two to three complaints per year about this policy, he said.
He stressed that LISD is in compliance with all Texas education code and transportation laws. Other school districts have a similar policy in place, Peter said, but he could not name any specifically.
LISD's policy has not only adversely affected Grieco's family. The Kos household lives down the road from Jonathan's Kempner home.
Gary Kos, a disabled veteran of the Iraq war, illegally drives his son to school each day.
His son, Clint, a ninth-grader at LHS, was given a 90-day sentence in DAEP last month for possession of marijuana on campus.
Like Grieco, Kos suffers from epileptic seizures and is not authorized to drive a motor vehicle. His wife works a 10-hour night shift in Austin and cannot make it home in time to take Clint to school.
Kos worries that if caught, he could lose his Social Security benefits.
"I realize my son screwed up, but they're punishing the parents more so than they are the students," Kos said.
"If I get caught driving, I could lose my Social Security and everything, and I can't take that chance. I'm probably going to have to put my son in another school and have to pay for it, which I don't even know if I can afford."
Kos spoke with several administrative officials about his family's situation, but they maintained that the district would make no special accommodations, he said.
"That's their policy and they're sticking to it," Kos said. "I just don't know what else to do."
Currently, the state does not require school districts to provide transportation to DAEP students, and specific rules vary by district, said Copperas Cove ISD Superintendent Rose Cameron.
CCISD, the closest school district to Lampasas, allows students in the DAEP program to ride a bus to school unless a student committed an offense on the bus, she said.
"I can't judge Lampasas's decision making, but I know we try to work with parents as much as we can. But sometimes it doesn't work out, depending on what the student has done," Cameron said.
"I know a lot of school districts that don't provide it at all, so when you lose the privilege, you lose the privilege."
Killeen ISD also offers transportation to students in its alternative school program, said KISD spokeswoman Leslie Gilmore. The much larger district provides a separate set of buses and bus stops for DAEP students.
As for Jonathan, his future remains uncertain. He hopes to become a chef someday or maybe a graphic designer. He wants to go to college.
Perhaps the Job Corps is a better fit for him anyway. Getting a traditional education isn't for everybody, he said. He plans to earn his GED through the federal program, like his mother did.
Grieco and Grenier insist that the LISD rule must be changed. Not just for Jonathan's sake, but for other families that may find themselves in a similar situation.
"It has already done all the damage it can to us," Grenier said. "I just don't want this to happen to another family."
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.