Fort Mill parent wants district to revise alternative school rule

joverman@fortmilltimes.comNovember 6, 2012 

— When a student in Fort Mill High School’s alternative program attended a football game recently, he was asked to leave. On the following Monday morning, he received a two day suspension for breaking a rule of the program: students enrolled in the alternative program are not allowed to attend extracurricular events.

That’s a rule parent Keith Brann, the student’s father, would like to see changed.

The district’s alternative school program offers students facing expulsion a chance to continue attending school – separate from the general population – so they can continue earning credits toward graduation. The programs are run in both of the district’s high schools, but the alternative program students have different hours and rules.

Those rules include a different dress code. Alternative program students have to have to wear a belt with their shirts tucked in.

Brann calls the rules “blatantly discriminatory.”

The separate set of rules stems from a time when the alternative program was Fort Mill Academy, a separate school on Banks Street that operated independently of the high schools. When the recession hit and district funding from the state decreased, the school district closed the Academy and created the alternative program in both high schools.

“Now that they are with the other students, even though they aren’t comingling, it should be the same policies,” Brann said. “If you’re in the same school as everyone else, you should have the same rules.”

Assistant Superintendent Tommy Schmolze met with Brann last week and said he will meet with administrators to review the alternative schools’ rules.

“It’s a healthy exercise to do,” he said.

He’s unsure if changes will be made, however. If the rules at the alternative school and the regular school are the same, he said, there is no motivation for students to get back into a regular school setting.

“The alternative placement is usually in lieu of an expulsion, so some privileges are taken away. If there is nothing lost, you have the same privileges as everyone else, you might not work as hard as everyone else. Especially when it’s housed in the same school,” Schmolze said.

Brann’s son, who Brann asked not be named, did have discipline issues in the past, he said. He also has learning challenges that made the Academy, and then the alternative program, an ideal setting for him, Brann said.

His son is not violent, he added, and there is no reason to keep him from going to a football game with his friends.

He hopes that a review of the policies will lead to more flexibility for alternative program students.

Administrators aren’t trying to be inflexible, Schmolze said, but, he also said officials feel it is important to create structure in the alternative school program. Students need extra support to help them become successful, he said, and sometimes that support comes in the form of rules that keep the students from slipping into old behaviors.

“If there is no difference, if they ride the same buses, carpool with the same kids, there is a tendency to lead them back to the same behaviors with the same consequences,” Schmolze said. “The more you can regulate, structure that program the more success you have based on research.”

Ideally, Schmolze said, the Academy could one day be revived.

Brann agrees that the Academy worked “really well.”

“Ultimately we’d like to have it at a different place and different program. You have more control over the direction of the program. It’s easier to be consistent when it’s at one place. But the budget is tough, so you do with what can with what you have,” Schmolze said.

Brann also appealed his son’s two day suspension. That appeal was denied.

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