Is an Alternative School Right for Your Child?

High school teacher calling on student in classroom
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Alternative schools are designed to educate students who have not been successful in regular schools, often because of behavior, disciplinary and safety concerns. An alternative school may involve a range of different educational settings other than the typical school. Alternative schools are frequently used as an alternative to expulsion and suspension.

Many alternative schools have regular and special education programs and use building-wide behavior intervention programs. Often there is a lower student-to-adult ratio, and staff has been trained to address complex behavior needs. Psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists may also provide services to students in alternative schools.

Alternative Schools as an Option

Alternative schools provide educational options for students who are not successful in typical schools. Over the years, they have been viewed as schools where "bad kids" go, but that's not necessarily the case. Many students in alternative schools do not have behavioral problems. However, they may have attendance problems and need an alternative school to get back on track.

In some alternative schools, children attend for the purpose of credit recovery, and once they've earned a sufficient number of credits, they transfer back to a traditional school. Of course, some students in alternative schools do have behavior problems. If you have your child has such problems and hasn't been served well in a traditional school, an alternative school may help.

What Does Your Child Want to Do?

The students in alternative schools are typically teenagers and old enough to decide what kind of academic environment they prefer. Ask your child what she thinks about attending an alternative school. Does she want a break from the traditional school? Would she benefit from going to an alternative school in any way?

For example, if your child has been diagnosed as having an emotional disturbance disability, would she be exposed to more teachers who are familiar with educating children with similar diagnoses? Does the alternative school have a flexible schedule or a program that will make it easier for your child to graduate on time or closer to schedule?

Listen to your child's input and weigh the pros and cons.

Try to visit the school before enrolling your child and attempt to get information about it from people who have direct experience with the school.

Ask students and parents at the school what they think of the teachers or programs there. Is the staff helpful to students or is the school a warehouse of sorts for troubled teens?

Other Options

If an alternative school makes you anxious but traditional school isn't working for your child, consider other options. Is it possible for you to homeschool your child or enroll them in cyber school? Is your child capable of studying for and passing the GED exam? Or is it possible that your child simply needs to transfer to a different traditional school where their needs will be met?

Consider whether getting your child counseling, tutoring, better transportation, or other services may help them excel in the traditional setting.

1 Source
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  1. Rubens SL, Miller MA, Zeringue MM, Laird RD. Associations of bullying, victimization, and daytime sleepiness with academic problems in adolescents attending an alternative high school. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 2019;(89)4:508–517. doi:10.1037/ort0000305

Additional Reading

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.