Emma Payton said she tried everything to keep her 12-year-old son from getting campus probation in the Killeen Independent School District. But on March 25, school officials sent sixth-grader D’Andre Thomas to Gateway Middle School.

“My first reaction was that it’s a place that he doesn’t need to be. I was not happy at all,” Payton said. “I didn’t have any control over that decision. ... They’re setting these children up for failure.”

D’Andre, who suffers from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, was placed in Gateway after a series of accusations, including grabbing a student around the neck and choking him in the hallway, and causing constant disruptions in class, according to documents provided by his parents. While district officials and D’Andre’s parents came up with a plan to curb his behavioral issues, Payton said teachers and officials at Smith Middle School didn’t follow through.

Gateway is the Killeen district’s campus for the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program. Texas education law mandates districts create such programs for students who commit serious or repeated disciplinary infractions. Killeen’s DAEP programs are at Gateway High School, Gateway Middle School and Cavazos Elementary School. Those campuses have tighter security and more stringent rules for students, including metal detectors.

At Gateway, D’Andre, who didn’t have to go through a metal detector at Smith Middle School, said he feels like he’s “in prison.”

According to district policy, students with a record like D’Andre’s are initially assigned a set number of days in the program. They successfully complete days by following Gateway’s rules and code of conduct. D’Andre was originally assigned to 30 days in Gateway Middle School in late March. He was still there last week.

Marking the days

According to D’Andre and his family, completing the days successfully is easier said than done.

Teachers are given a daily point sheet, where points are deducted for infractions such as “slouching down in seat” or dragging “feet across the floor” during class or “cracking knuckles.”

On his first day at the alternative school, points were deducted from D’Andre for a dress code violation because his faded black socks were considered gray and his black belt had a small logo on it, according to a copy of his records.

If any points are deducted from a student’s sheet, Payton said the day does not count toward the total number of “successful” days they must accomplish at the alternative school. As of Friday, despite 30 days at Gateway, D’Andre only completed 18 of the 30 “successful” days he needs to return to his old school.

“The rules put a lot of pressure (on me) because they’re being strict,” said D’Andre, adding he feels hopeless. “It makes me feel horrible because it makes me seem like they just want me to stay (at Gateway).”

Structured by design

The Killeen Independent School District does not comment on individual students, but did issue a statement on the DAEP program.

“The District Alternative Education Program, by design, is more structured than the regular education program. One of the main reasons for this structure is to help instill discipline within students, a skill which will hopefully assist the child throughout the remainder of their lives,” the statement said. “That being said, the over-arching goal of the DAEP program remains student success. The district is committed to ensuring students are prepared to return to their campuses with an acquired skill-set that will allow them to achieve high levels of expectations back at their home campuses. This is accomplished with both positive reward and negative consequences.”

However, Payton’s husband, James Payton, said the system might be too rigid for students.

“The whole system, to me, seems like a pre-prison camp. The way they have the kids walking around with their hands behind their back,” he said. “If every child gets written up for every little thing that they do that’s not in the criteria of the student handbook, everybody is going to be in alternative school. A kid is going to be a kid.”

Trouble with discipline

D’Andre’s parents aren’t the only ones concerned about DAEP. Throughout Texas, the management, use and impact of the programs is a divisive issue.

“There’s an over-arching concern in the way Texas school districts handle discipline in general,” said Deborah Fowler, deputy director for Appleseed Texas, a nonprofit social economic justice advocacy group based in Austin. “We have returned to a more reactionary and punitive disciplinary policies.”

Appleseed has long been critical of DAEP systems in the state. Fowler pointed to a 2011 study from the Council of State Government’s Justice Center on school discipline in Texas. The report found that a high number of expulsions are made from DAEPs for the very same behaviors that brought the student there initially, and that students facing DAEP placement are more likely to get poor grades, drop out or end up in the juvenile justice system.

The report also stated that close to 97 percent of the children that participated in the study were placed in DAEP programs at the discretion of schools, not for more serious infractions that posed a danger to the health and safety of students and staff, for which placement is mandatory.

“The system doesn’t help kids with behavior issues get back on track,” Fowler said. “So the question becomes, is this an effective tool?”

Emma Payton worries about the influence more serious offenders will have on D’Andre.

“You’ve got kids that were selling drugs or have weapons with kids that are ADHD,” she said.

Fowler said the state needed to reassess how it handles student discipline, and move away from simply punishing students to measures that address and work with students to correct misbehavior, such as restorative justice programs.

“We need to ensure that the systems we put in place works for kids, as well as teachers and school personnel,” she said.

Fowler said Appleseed is hopeful the state’s newest education commissioner, Michael Williams, may look at making reforms to how schools handle discipline in Texas. In the meantime, districts will continue to be required to run and fund the programs.

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.


(7) comments


Reading this article made me physically ill. My son was one those "trouble makers" with ADHD that didn't stand a chance when he got to 6th grade. One of the first infractions for which he was written up was for throwing a french fry in the cafeteria. Was he wrong? You bet! However, his ADHD logic told him that the french fry he threw wasn't nearly as worthy of a write up as the kids that were throwing gang signs across the cafeteria that no one seemed to notice. His lesson that day was "the worse the offense, the more you get away with." And those write ups for sagging? They all came from the same teacher that required him and him only to raise his shirt upon entering her room and wrote him up if she could see any trace of gym shorts under his pants. He wore the gym shorts so his underwear didn't show. He wore a belt daily. How about the write up he got for clicking his pen in a 6th grade band class---as if a pen click could be more annoying than the noise from 6th grade band! Why did he have a pen in band class? So that he "could learn his notes using paper/pencil task rather than playing his horn." That's exactly what an ADHD kid needs--more paperwork. His 504 plan? Competely skirted. A behavior plan before sending a kid to DAEP? Not even offered. Thirty days of DAEP turned in to quite a few more: stacked his tray wrong, wore navy blue socks rather than black (they were black at home), looked at the clock in class, laughed aloud, cracked his knuckles, yawned, stretched, dropped a pencil, forgot to put his hands behind his back, those monstrous behaviors go on and on. Know what he learned at DAEP that will help him in life. NOTHING. I learned to get him out of KISD. By the way, I was employee of KISD who sent an outstanding, character-filled, polite, ambitious, happy kid to Liberty Hill. And they created a moody, unmotivated, unhappy kid that hated school so bad, he wanted to quit at twelve years old. Yes, kids should be expected to tow the line. But teachers and administrators better tow their own line and discipline with dignity rather than project their miniscule power over those smaller than they. If my child was such a problem in KISD, why is he now, again, an honor student, an athlete, and an outstanding young man of character (his teachers words, not mine).


Overseer makes good point in comments. No one in real life will excuse actions because of ADHD. Act on impulse in society, break a law and there will be consequences.


sounds like the old tired story, my child would not do that;I am quite sure the parents of the teenage mass killers said a similar statement.I agree with KISD policy. now is the time to make a change in the young persons life, not when they go off the deep end.


Getting a child put in DAEP is not a simple matter. They don't just do something wrong and off they go. Usually the school has tried all of their discipline procedures, tried to use modifications to help the student, gone through the RTI process (a committee uses ideas like positive reinforcement etc... to help the student) , many, many write ups of the infractions and working with counselors. When you reach the point in which nothing works they go to DAEP. You are simply out of options and you hope DAEP will teach them to follow the rules so they can return to their campus.


Ellishilliard, I agree with you. I know children who have have interacted with this particular student and, unfortunately, alternative school was a justified destination for him. Credible reports confirm his as a constant pusher and breaker of the rules of the campus. Parents were at the school all of the time; they were notified of his behavior on a cosistent basis as they were at the school quite often. His move towards alternative school was of no surprise to his parents. I am disappointed in, as you stated about parents dropping the ball and trying to paint the school, its teachers and its administration in a negative light, that they were the true source of his continual misbehavior and defending it by trying to say the school didn't follow up on his ADHD diagnosis.
Here's a statement and a warning to the parents: if you keep trying to get your son out of trouble instead of dealing with it as parents, you will eventually find yourself yourself trying to justify his behavior before a judge while trying to keep him out of jail. Life doesn't care about his ADHD and neither will some of the people he will encounter in his life. Instead of trying to play the bitter victim, you must stop trying to be the victims yourselves and help the true victim of your household, the child.


Without a doubt I understand what this child is going through. I was that child who was kicked out of school and placed in an alternative setting. Regardless of this understanding, I think the parents are excusing their child's behavior. I understand that school's are excessive, and outright unfair at times, in dealing with many of the children they discipline. Unfortunately, this is the position we adults put our children in. The parents claim their child was placed in an alternative setting because they have ADHD. Their child grabbed another child by the neck. If that was an adult they would have been charged with assault by strangulation. If that wasn't the one offense that sent them to alternative school, then it seems as if the parents allowed the school to determine the punishment by not correcting the child on his actions; rather they excused them by way of his ADHD. The school may have been wrong for deducting points for a faded sock, and I believe they should have contacted the parents regarding the sock before they decided to deduct points. The problem is they have another excuse as to why their child is being disciplined by the school. In addition, I resent the remarks of Appleseed talking about how schools "should" discipline children. It's really not the job of the school to discipline anybody's child, it is the JOB of the PARENTS. Alternative school is not used so much to discipline the child as it is to separate the child from students who are disciplined. I understand students may be treated unfairly by the school's, but life is not fair. Your child having ADHD is not an excuse for their behavior, nor is it an excuse for the school to discipline the child. The child's behavior, and the lack of discipline by the parents allow the school to decide whatever the see fit. RIGHT OR WRONG... I'm not trying to say these particular parents are not doing their job, what I am saying is that our society has allowed others to take over the disciplinary roles, but we complain about the discipline given. No, parents can't watch everything their child does, but that child should be worried about their parents catching them. Many children are diagnosed with ADHD (some may say over-diagnosed) everyday. We can not allow this to be a handicap no matter how many people tell us it is.


I agree with you about the socks but, more than likely, this was a repeat offense with this student. Some students aaaand parents, love to challenge the rules. From what I have heard and have seen with my own eyes on the Smith campus; kids and parents have said the students there are allowed to wear fip-flop and other types of sandals that were not permitted next year. The reason I hear, a parent challenged the new principal and, because he found nothing about it not being allowed in the handbook, gave in. Apparently, having open toed shoes in a hallway with hundrends of kids and in classes like science and other classes that may engage in activities that require closed-toed shoes.

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