RD470 - Final Report of the Virginia Commission on Youth - Study of Alternative Education Options

Executive Summary:
This study originated with the Commission on Youth’s May 17, 2006 meeting and the approval of the study of Alternative Education Options. The Commission directed staff to study this issue and to present findings and recommendations to the Commission on Youth prior to the 2007 General Assembly Session. The study plan directed staff to conduct a review of alternative education programs for suspended and expelled youth. Additionally, the Commission was to explore data available at the Department of Education to determine whether a problem exists regarding the number of school suspensions and expulsions within Virginia public schools.

During the 2006 study year, the Virginia Commission on Youth researched the availability of alternative education programs for expelled and suspended students who could not be served in traditional public school settings. This investigation also addressed the various challenges facing school divisions in providing educational services to these students.

The Commission established an Alternative Education Advisory Group consisting of representatives from the Virginia Department of Education, the School Board Association, the Alternative Education Association, local school divisions, and other stakeholders as listed in Appendix A The Advisory Group has provided assistance to the study throughout its three years.

In 2006, the Commission surveyed all 132 school divisions to gather information on Virginia's alternative education options. Responses provided information on:

• Virginia’s 29 regional alternative education programs; and
• School divisions’ locally-created alternative education programs for suspended, expelled or at-risk youth.

In 2007, a draft document, Guide to Local Alternative Education Options for Suspended and Expelled Students in the Commonwealth, was compiled by Commission staff using survey data provided by local school divisions and was submitted to the Commission on Youth for review. The document was published in Spring 2008 and made available on the Commission’s and Legislative Information System’s websites and mailed by the Department of Education to all school division superintendents. In 2008, the Commission published the Interim Report on Alternative Education Options (Research Document 194) to summarize the activities from the first and second year of the study. (*1) Recommendations approved for all three years of the study are also detailed in Section VIII of this report.

At its December 3, 2008 meeting, the Commission on Youth approved the following recommendations from the third year of its Alternative Education Options study:

Recommendation 1
Introduce legislation to amend § 22.1-209.1:2 of the Code of Virginia to provide that regional alternative education options may also be utilized for students at-risk of a long-term suspension as authorized by the school superintendent. Due process protections regarding notice, hearings, and appeals required for students who are suspended or expelled required when a regional alternative education placement would also be recommended for students deemed at-risk of receiving a long-term suspension. Also, amend this section of the Code to clarify that this section refers to regional alternative education programs.

Recommendation 2
Request that the Chairman of the Virginia Commission on Youth write a letter to the Board of Education to ask that the revisions to the Standards of Accreditation (SOA) be amended to include provisions for requiring schools exhibiting suspension and expulsion rates above the state average implement evidence-based intervention programs designed to improve suspension and expulsion rates.

Recommendation 3
Introduce legislation to include a definition of alternative education programs in the Code of Virginia which is consistent with § 22.1-253.13:1 that describes instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning (SOLs) and other educational objectives. This legislation would specify that alterative education options are for students whose needs are not met in programs prescribed elsewhere, as set forth in the SOLs. “Alternative education” will be replaced by “nontraditional education” except when referring to regional alternative education programs.

Recommendation 4
Write a letter requesting the Superintendent of Public Education to establish a central point of contact with the Department of Education in the area of nontraditional education options.

Recommendation 5
Write a letter requesting the Board of Education establish model guidelines for locally-created alternative education programs consistent with the guidelines established for the regional alternative education programs.

Recommendation 6
Request that the Chairman of the Virginia Commission on Youth write a letter requesting that the Virginia Department of Education establish a mechanism for school divisions to use the individual student tracking number system to indicate whether a student is enrolled in their home school, in a local alternative setting or in a regional alternative school.
(*1) Virginia Commission on Youth. 2008. Report Document 194, Alternative Education Options Interim Report. [Online]. Available: