ACLU Report Reveals Breakdown In Mississippi Alternative Schools

February 24, 2009 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Mississippi
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Alternative School System Failing To Prevent Dropouts Or Provide Quality Education


CONTACT: (212) 549-2666;

JACKSON, MS – Alternative 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 withdrew from school that same year. In Picayune, 12 percent of the students referred to an alternative school during the 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years were referred there at least twice. And students in Vicksburg, Picayune and DeSoto County 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 release has been revised to indicate the correct time frame and location in the seventh paragraph.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.