August 9, 2014

'Nowhere to go': Parents of expelled students struggle to find alternatives

Being expelled from school can be devastating, throwing students' and families' lives into turmoil. But despite being expelled from Belleville high schools, three teenagers still have aspirations for the future.

Brian Crawford, 15, wants a career in construction or architecture or to enlist in the Marines. Jay-Vion Lawson, 18, hopes to be a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, and Vantezz Carter, 18, plans to attend college.

Their parents all struggled to find another school after their children were expelled. Most expelled students from St. Clair or Madison counties are given the option to attend Safe Schools operated by the regional offices of education.

However, some students are expelled with no educational options.

"There's just not that many kids who are truly expelled without services," said Jeff Dosier, superintendent of Belleville School District 201.

In all, 44 students were expelled from District 201 during the 2013-14 school year, and seven of those students were not offered alternative educational options after being turned away from the district's Alternative Day School of Safe School, including Crawford and Lawson.

School officials declined to discuss specifics about expulsion cases because of student confidentiality rules.

Belleville resident Judiette White said her son, Brian, was expelled from Belleville East High School for "gross misconduct and behavior."

She explained her son's expulsion stemmed from multiple incidents, including fighting with students on a school bus and a BB gun that was found in his locker in someone else's backpack. He let a friend put the backpack in his locker, she said.

"He didn't know what was in the backpack," White said.

This isn't the first time Brian was expelled. White said he was expelled from Belle Valley School during eighth-grade and attended the Safe School in St. Clair County before going to Belleville East.

White said she believed her son, who has attention deficit and hyper tension disorder and aggression issues, needed an individualized education plan to address some of his problems, but was unable to get one through District 201. Individualized education plans, which outline educational goals, are usually provided to students with a disability.

"I never heard from them," she said of district officials. "My cries went unheard. ... I'm pretty much fed up with Belleville 201, period. I don't feel they care."

Brian said he feels his expulsion was warranted because of his actions. "Whatever I do bad I know I have consequences," he said.

Brian is unable to attend the Safe School again, according to his mother.

"His enrollment in Safe School was contingent upon him getting out of trouble," she said. "He has nowhere to go to school. ... I don't have the means to send him to a private or parochial school."

The family is looking into scholarships and other means of paying for Brian's education, but White said it's difficult to find an alternative high school because you have to be at least 16 for some other educational programs, including military boarding schools.

"We are not finding any programs for him at his age," she said. "At this point, he's stuck. We don't have anywhere to send him. With God's grace we are going to get it together."

Few options exist

Claudia Palmer's son Jay-Vion Lawson also was expelled from Belleville East this past school year. She said Lawson was attending District 201's Alternative Day School until he and another student "had words."

"He had gotten into a little trouble," Palmer explained, so Lawson was sent to the district's Alternative Day School housed at Belleville East's campus.

She said Lawson was doing OK until he and another student got into a verbal altercation over putting a book away.

"Every child has a temper," Palmer said. "He's not an out-of-control, young teenager."

Lawson was expelled from District 201 for two years, according to his mother.

Palmer said her son has no choice but to get his general equivalency degree, or GED, through Southwestern Illinois College.

"He was forced to do that because of some words exchanged between two kids," Palmer said. "I felt like it was not fair for him not to get his high school diploma."

Once he completes his GED, Lawson will pursue certification for heating, ventilation and air conditioning through SWIC. "He didn't give up," Palmer said.

People 16 and older can enroll in GED classes offered at the college, SWIC spokesman Jim Haverstick said.

A new beginning

Eighteen-year-old Vantezz Carter was expelled from Belleville West High School last month. It stemmed from an incident in early June when he allegedly pointed an Airsoft-style handgun out the window of a vehicle parked on campus.

A parent saw Carter holding what appeared to be a weapon and called police. An airsoft gun differs from a BB gun because it resembles a real weapon more closely.

Carter was arrested June 5 by Belleville Police and charged with one count of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. The case is pending. He was expelled by the school board later that month.

Carter admits what he did was inappropriate, but at the time, he said he felt expulsion was an extreme punishment for what took place.

Vantezz Carter's mother, Juanita Carter, said her son was initially devastated by the expulsion, which meant missing his senior year at Belleville West, missing going prom and attending school with his friends, and preventing him from playing football, which he hoped would lead to a college scholarship.

District 201 gave Vantezz Carter the option of attending the Safe School -- but he wasn't interested. He began attending summer school at Governor French Academy in Belleville.

"I'm so glad we found a school," Juanita Carter said. "I didn't know what was going to happen."

Governor French Headmaster Phil Paeltz said the private school admits students based on interviews with the family and the student.

"I made mistakes in school," Paeltz said. "People deserve an opportunity to correct it."

Paeltz praised Vantezz's determination. "He does a fine job," Paeltz said. "He's attending well, and he's done his work."

Juanita Carter admits Governor French is expensive for her at $600 a month, but she said her son's education is "well worth it."

Vantezz Carter said he enjoyed attending summer school five days a week at Governor French.

"It's been good," he said. "I met some new people at school."

He looks forward to attending the school this fall and playing basketball and running track there. He said his main goal is to graduate from high school on time.

"It's all great," he said.

Juanita Carter said, "God does everything for a reason. There's some good in all bad that happens. This ended up being a good thing," she said of her son's expulsion. "This is going to help him focus more on his academics and his future career."

Like public schools, private schools also expel students. During the 2013-14 school year, Paeltz said four students were expelled from Governor French.

"If somebody comes here and does what they are supposed to and follow the rules, they are going to do fine," Paeltz said, "and if they can't, we get rid of them."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or Follow her on Twitter at @BND_JForsythe.

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