I checked this morning. The Huntsville City Schools Student Handbook has not been updated, at least on the website, to include the HCS’s contract with The Pinnacle Schools, including the five beds it has already paid for at the Elk River Treatment Program and which Superintendent Wardynski mentioned in comments after the February 2, 2012 board meeting:
“Those who do not comport themselves according to the regulations and rules of Pinnacle Schools will find themselves living in a teepee. And they won’t be coming back until they can behave. And if they can’t behave, they won’t be coming back to our schools”
and in The Huntsville Times’ article “Huntsville Superintendent: Fight at Lee High School was gang initiation.”
Although the Seldon Center, the HCS alternative school according to page 17 of the current Student Handbook, isn’t due to close until the end of the year, the Pinnacle era has begun. This is from the contract between The Pinnacle Schools (TPS) and the HCS:
C1. Contract Period: The initial period for this Agreement will be a combination of a short academic term from February 2012 to July 2012 and an additional academic year from August 1 through July 31, 2013. The 2013 – 2014 Agreement year (August 1, 2013 through July 31, 2014) shall automatically renew unless the Superintendent provides TPS written notification that HCS will not renew at least 60 days prior to the commencement of the next Agreement year.
2011 – 2012 (short academic period) – The cost to Huntsville City Schools will be $360,000 for 75 student slots. This amounts to a prorated cost of $4,800 per student. (This cost is based on a 6 month short term academic program HCS hereby agrees to pay TPS/ERTP, as compensation for services relating to this agreement, the sum of $159,688 for 5 contractual beds at Elk River Treatment Program at a rate of $150 per diem/bed/year for the period January 1, 2012 – July 31, 2012.
The Elk River Treatment Program is where the teepees are. This is a wilderness behavior modification program. More on that later.
But first let’s look at this report by Crystal Bonvillian on Al.com, via The Huntsville Times, regarding the kids who got in the fight that showed up on YouTube:
Wardynski said last week that the students and their parents faced a choice between expulsion and going through the district’s new alternative program. The school board voted Jan. 19 to close the district’s alternative school, the Seldon Center, in favor of a contract with The Pinnacle Schools.
The superintendent confirmed this week that all four students are now at Pinnacle. “They chose to go through the program,” Wardynski said.
The Pinnacle Schools is a Huntsville-based treatment program for troubled youth. It consists of a year-round Huntsville day campus, as well as the more rudimentary Elk River Treatment Program, which is a short-term intervention where Wardynski said students live in teepees. The Elk River program can last from eight weeks to a year.
The students must complete the program, however long it takes, before having an opportunity to re-enter their neighborhood schools.
The article also implies that Wardynski took action because he believed it was a gang initiation, although a Huntsville police officer said that “we can’t say for sure. . .The reason we can’t pinpoint it is that there’s no concrete evidence” [emphasis added].
The first obvious problem is that Wardynski says the fight was a gang initiation, but a police officer says there is “no concrete evidence” for that conclusion. Ms. Bonvillian, why would you interview Officer Carl McDuffie and then not pursue this disconnect?
Then there is this statement by Wardynski: “It was a gang initiation; these students went to lunch together afterward” [emphasis added].
According to the HCS Student Handbook, there’s “Fighting,” a Class II intermediate offense, and there’s “Assault,” a Class III Major Offense, “for which expulsion will be for the remainder of the semester and for the following semester.”
- 2.02 Fighting – Any physical confrontation between two or more individuals in which physical contact is made with harmful intent.
- 3.06 Assault – Actually and intentionally pushing or striking another individual (student or adult) against the will of the other, causing serious physical injury.
Now I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if after a physical confrontation, the two students involved “went to lunch together afterward,” then there was no serious physical injury, and what occurred was a fight and not an assault.
The Alabama Criminal Code equivalent for “fighting” would be assault in the third degree, which is a misdemeanor, and for “assault,” assault in the second degree, a felony. To go from the misdemeanor to felony level requires serious as in permanent damage. Unless the victim comes to court with a limb missing, an empty eye socket, or a bitten-off ear, something really dramatic and obvious, expert medical testimony (and not just records) will have to be subpoenaed. This is a lot of work, I guess, so a lot of folks who should be charged with a felony end up with a misdemeanor, and for a first timer, that means six months’ probation. No teepee time.
Now, let’s see what the handbook says about penalties for Class II violations, like fighting:
First Offense of any Class II Violation: In-school disciplinary actions or suspension not to exceed 5 school days. Severity of offense may warrant disciplinary actions as outlined under Subsequent Offenses.
Subsequent Offenses of Class II Violations:
Suspension not to exceed 7 school days. If disciplinary actions are not effective, principal may recommend school probation, Superintendent Level.
Repeated offenses on more than two occasions may result in disciplinary actions as specified under Subsequent Offenses of Class III Violations.
Bonvillian reported that “Wardynski said last week that the students and their parents faced a choice between expulsion and going through the district’s new alternative program.”
Why? How did expulsion come into the picture if there was no serious physical injury and hence no assault? Get real. Victims who have suffered “serious physical injury” simply don’t go “to lunch together afterward” with their assailants, do they?
Now I presume the kids are at the Pinnacle School, but who knows, they may be in the teepees. If what constitutes a Class III offense is now determined by the Superintendent, is it a stretch to assume that the penalty is, too? Remember, too, that “concrete evidence” is apparently optional these days.
Here’s another section of the Pinnacle Contract:
A6. Due Process/ Class III Offense: Students will adhere to an atmosphere of Positive Peer Culture and Accountability, Integrity and Responsibility while attending the TPS RAISE Program. In the event a student allowed alternative placement to TPS in lieu of expulsion is charged with commission of a Class III offense, TPS will adhere to the Procedure currently in place by HCS. . . HCS may refer students who are being removed from the program to Pinnacle School’s Elk River Treatment Program for intensive therapeutic treatment, upon such terms as may be agreed to by TPS and HCS and at the sole discretion of the Superintendent. [emphasis added]
And remember, “The Elk River program can last from eight weeks to a year. The students must complete the program, however long it takes, before having an opportunity to re-enter their neighborhood schools.”
So, kids, the bottom line is this. Don’t fight on school property. If you fight there, you could find yourself living in a teepee for a year — or maybe longer. You won’t have legal counsel (“Ordinarily no attorney will be present in an advisory capacity for the expulsion hearing”), which you are provided in juvenile court. Unless you do someone an obvious serious physical injury, if you fight away from school, and get arrested, and the case isn’t diverted from the courts, and you are found guilty or enter a consent agreement, likely you’ll end up with six months probation. Shipped off without legal counsel to a teepee for “however long it takes” — that, kids, is scary, very scary.
As for the School Board: You hired this man, and you approved this contract. Don’t you think it’s about time to give kids fair warning? Every fall, every kid and parent have to sign a statement saying they’ve all read the Student Handbook. It’s sort of like a contract, too. What message are you sending kids when it isn’t followed and radical changes are made without it being appended?