The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Matthews, ACLU, (212) 549-2582 or 2666;
Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi, (601) 573-3978;

ACLU Report Reveals Breakdown in Mississippi Alternative Schools

Alternative School System Failing to Prevent Dropouts or Provide Quality Education


schools in Mississippi are not adequately helping struggling students
to succeed academically, leaving too many of the state's children to
drift toward dropout and failure, according to a new American Civil
Liberties Union report released today.

The state's alternative school
system, which has seen a 23 percent increase in its population in the
past four years alone, overemphasizes punishment at the expense of
remediation while failing to provide its students with a quality
education, the report finds. Most of the students in the system are
students of color or have special needs.

The report's findings are just the
latest example of a disturbing national trend known as the "school to
prison pipeline," wherein students are over-aggressively funneled out
of mainstream public schools and pushed in the direction of the
juvenile and criminal justice systems.

"The goal of the alternative school
system in the state of Mississippi should be to help rescue students
who are on the verge of falling through the cracks, and help those
students to get on a track that will lead to their succeeding
academically and later on in life," said Jamie Dycus, an attorney with
the ACLU Racial Justice Program and the author of the report.
"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."

The report reveals a number of
troubling realities, including the fact that too many of the state's
alternative schools take an overwhelmingly punitive approach.
Alternative school students in DeSoto County, for example, are
prohibited from making friends with each other and are subjected to
daily, invasive body searches. Additionally, a vast majority of the
state's alternative schools are not providing a quality education. Too
many schools fail to provide state-mandated individual instructional
plans for each student, for example, and students in several districts
report never receiving homework, having shortened school days and being
allowed to sleep while in class.

Entitled "Missing the Mark:
Alternative Schools in the State of Mississippi," the report is the
result of a year-long research effort by the ACLU and includes findings
based on dozens of interviews with students, parents, educators and
advocates, as well as analysis of thousands of pages of public records.

Mississippi's own dropout prevention
plan describes alternative schools as places that provide "potential
dropouts a variety of options that can lead to graduation." But the
ACLU report makes clear that the state's alternative schools are not
meeting that objective. In Madison County, 36 percent of students
referred to an alternative school during the 2005-06 academic year
dropped out of school that same year. In Picayune County, 12 percent of
the students referred to an alternative school during the 2004-05 and
2006-07 school years were referred there at least twice. And students
in Vicksburg, Picayune and DeSoto Counties reported being warehoused in
alternative schools for as many as four years at a time.

"It is clear that our alternative
school system is failing the most vulnerable of our state's children,"
said Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.
"Students who struggle with behavioral problems or learning
disabilities deserve to be given the special attention they need to
ensure they become well-educated, productive members of society.
Instead, they are being increasingly marginalized and left behind."

The report also reveals that the
state's alternative school system disproportionately impacts students
of color. Statewide, the per capita rate of alternative school referral
among African American students was twice that among white students
between 2004-05 and 2007-08. During the 2007-08 academic year, the
referral rate was four times higher for African American students in
Vicksburg, six times higher in Jackson and seven times higher in
Madison County.

A copy of the ACLU report, "Missing the Mark: Alternative Schools in the State of Mississippi" is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU of Mississippi is available online at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666