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Article of Interest - Alternative Schools

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Bridges4Kids LogoAlternative Schooling Not Required, U.S. Court Rules
Gongwer News Service, January 24, 2005

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Although Michigan's constitution guarantees the right to a free public elementary and secondary education, neither it nor state law provides a right to alternative education for those older than the drop-out age of 16, a panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday in a case arising from the notorious 2000 murder of a New Baltimore teen pizza worker.


The court rejected claims brought by a high school drop-out who was barred from the Anchor Bay School District's Skill Quest program after his arrest on charges of murdering Justin Mello.   The charges against Matthew Daniels were quickly dismissed for lack of evidence and charges against two friends were eventually dropped when two men confessed to the crime.


Mr. Daniels, now 21 and on probation on a drug possession crime, claimed the district denied him due process in terminating his participation in the Skill Quest program and refusing to let him re-enroll when he was released by police.


The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said Mr. Daniels had an unquestioned right to attend high school, though he forfeited that when he dropped out, and noted school districts are not required to provide alternative education for those older than 16 who do not have a high school degree.


And while districts such as Anchor Bay which do create alternative programs do create an entitlement - similar to interscholastic sports - that may not be withdrawn without due process, the court added Mr. Daniels could not establish a property claim in that schooling.


The Anchor Bay program, the court said, had two key conditions: sole discretion by the superintendent on who may be admitted and a requirement students abide by program policies including attendance where failure to comply results in automatic loss of credit.


"Because Daniels cannot demonstrate any property right to alternative education in the Skill Quest program, he cannot demonstrate that Anchor Bay or Woodside denied him due process by enforcing the program's automatic loss of credit resulting from his absence from class during his pre-trial detention, or by refusing to permit him to re-enroll after his release from detention," wrote Judge Alice Batchelor, in an opinion signed by Judges David Nelson and Eugene Siler Jr. (Daniels v. Woodside).    


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