School Matters

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Changing the Life Course of Youth in the Juvenile Justice System Through Education Advocacy

Youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system face hurdles in accessing education. Schools often refer students to the system without identifying their need for special education services or providing the right academic and behavior supports. Estimates indicate that anywhere from 65-85% of students in the juvenile justice system have a disability and likely require services to be successful in school, yet many are not receiving those services.

And research shows that youth involved with the juvenile justice system who don’t have good education outcomes don’t have good life outcomes.

But a partnership between Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) and the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD) is changing the life course for probation-involved youth. This program offers a unique opportunity for these young people to receive education advocacy services they desperately need but would likely not otherwise know existed.

Issues Addressed

Through the program, HCJPD probation officers refer students to DRTx who are experiencing the following issues:

  • Not been evaluated for or receiving 504 or special education services
  • Inadequate 504 or special education services
  • Lack of appropriate positive behavioral supports
  • Several grade levels behind
  • Denial of enrollment
  • Being bullied
  • Homelessness
  • Truancy

Who We’ve Helped

Trevon and his mom
Trevon and his mom

In December 2018, the Houston Chronicle featured a article on youth in the juvenile justice system and included the story of one of our clients, Trevon. Because of the advocacy efforts of our DRTx Education Specialist, Trevon was able to get back on track in school and graduated from high school on time. Read more stories of other students we’ve been able to help.

Since accepting our first referral in January 2016, DRTx has provided advocacy services to just over 2,000 youth who are now receiving the educational services they need to succeed in life. In 2021 and 2022, an average of 94% of youth served in the program did not reoffend within a year of probation. See our Harris County project impact infographic for details on how we’ve helped these young people.

Because of our individual casework, we have also been able to identify pervasive larger scale issues within school districts and consult with them so they can provide the appropriate educational services and minimize referrals to the justice system. And, with a new law in Texas requiring schools to hold transition meetings for students returning to school, we attend these meetings and help assess and advocate for the young person’s educational needs to improve the likeliness of graduation.

Introducing Our School Re-entry Toolkit for Parents

In the course of our work, we’ve learned that youth exiting a juvenile justice facility, Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP), or Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP) often have difficulty reentering their local public school. Disability Rights Texas developed the Texas School Reentry Toolkit to help parents, guardians, and advocates assist students with gaining reentry to school following release from these placements.

The information and resources included in this toolkit were designed to address school reentry in the Houston area, but anyone in Texas can follow similar steps to help a student gain reentry into a school in their area.

We look forward to continuing our advocacy for youth in Harris County and are working to set up partnerships with other counties in Texas to provide similar services. If your county is interested in starting this type of program, please see our program overview and call Sarah Beebe, Supervising Attorney for the DRTx Harris County Juvenile Probation Education Advocacy Program, at 832-681-8211.


Updated September 15, 2022