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Case citation:  Stephens v. Trinity Independent School District, 2012 WL 5289346 (Tex. App.– Tyler 2012) (unpublished).

Summary:  Steve Stephens and Crissy Stephens filed suit on behalf of their son, R.A.S. against the Trinity Independent School District for placing R.A.S.  in the district’s disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP).  It was alleged that, after a football game, R.A.S. was seen shaking hands with another student.  The district alleged that during that interaction, R.A.S. purchased a Vicodin pill.  A constable witnessed the incident and approached the student, who was with his grandfather.  However, the constable was unable to substantiate his belief that a drug transaction took place.  Officers, however, discovered that the other student involved in the interaction, who allegedly sold drugs to R.A.S., possessed narcotics.  That second student was arrested, tried, and convicted for possession and sale of narcotics on school property.  During the investigation, the student testified that he had sold drugs to R.A.S.

R.A.S. was never arrested or charged with any offense related to the alleged drug transaction.  However, the district decided to place R.A.S. in its DAEP for 45 days.  The Stephenses alleged that their son was given additional time in the DAEP for attending a school function, against DAEP rules.  According to the parents, the district issued the additional days in retaliation for protesting R.A.S.’s placement in the DAEP.  The Stephenses appealed the DAEP placement to the superintendent and ultimately the board, but the board upheld the discipline.  The Stephenses filed suit, seeking an order overturning the DAEP placement.  The district, in response, filed a plea to the jurisdiction, challenging the court’s jurisdiction over the matter.  The trial court granted the plea to the jurisdiction and the parents appealed.

Ruling:  The appeals court upheld the trial court judgment dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction.  The appeals court observed that Chapter 37 of the Education Code sets out disciplinary consequences for specific conduct and the procedural due process required.  Under Chapter 37, a student can be placed in a DAEP if the student possesses, uses, or is under the influence of an illegal controlled substance or dangerous drug.  The Education Code also provides for notice and various hearings and appeals at which the student and parents may participate.  However, under Education Code § 37.009(b), any decision by the board to place a student in a DAEP is final and may not be appealed.  Thus, state district and appellate courts do not have jurisdiction to review a student’s placement in the DAEP.

Here, because R.A.S.’s placement in the DAEP was not an expulsion, review of the district’s decision is governed by Education Code § 37.009(b).  The record showed that the parents followed the district’s appeal procedures and the board upheld the DAEP placement decision.  That decision was final and could not be appealed.  Thus, the trial court did not have jurisdiction over the district’s decision to place R.A.S. in the DAEP.

The parents also argued that the DAEP provisions in the Education Code were unconstitutional because they deprived their son of due process.  The appeals court disagreed and observed that students in Texas are entitled to a free public education.  Due process protections are required when discipline imposed against a student results in the deprivation of access to an education.  Transferring a student from regular classes to a DAEP does not impact protected property or liberty interests.  Thus, R.A.S.’s placement in the DAEP did not implicate any due process concerns.  The district’s placement of R.A.S. in the DAEP did not deny him access to public education.  The parents failed to allege the violation of R.A.S.’s due process rights.  The appeals court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit.