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Boot Camp Schools Across Texas

by Published on
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Jen Reel
A drill instructor at the Brownsville Academic Center.

Back in June, the Observer featured Brownsville ISD’s boot camp school, exploring the question of whether—to steal a line from the cover of the magazine—”military-style discipline helps or harms.”

The Brownsville Academic Center, a gleaming new $8 million campus built for up to 200 students, is Texas’ largest boot-camp style disciplinary school—but as I wrote in that story, it isn’t the only one. Juvenile boot camps, popular in the ’80s and ’90s heyday of zero-tolerance discipline, have generally fallen out of fashion after a string of allegations of abuse and intimidation by drill instructors.

These school district-run programs promise a kinder, gentler approach drawing on the military as an inspiration for the structure and self-esteem the schools hope to hard-wire into students. Still, it’s an extreme model for a public school—especially when it’s the only disciplinary program the district provides.

Here, then, is a rundown of the other districts around Texas with boot camp-style disciplinary schools. Any quotes are from district spokespeople or principals. This isn’t a scientific list—it’s based on my own research and interviews with school officials, so join in the comments with any others you know and I’ll add them here.

Judson ISD (San Antonio)
Judson Secondary Alternative School
Students: 15
Grade range: 6-12

The district has other disciplinary options, but students are referred here for “significant and or chronic disruption to the safety and education of the student or fellow students.” It includes military uniforms, drill instructors, physical training and a zero-tolerance discipline policy.

Southwest ISD (San Antonio)
Southwest ISD Boot Camp
Students: 25-28
Grade range: 6-12

One of two disciplinary programs run by the district, students are referred here for “infractions of the student code of conduct.” It was created as a “transition back to the traditional secondary campuses.”

Sherman ISD
Sherman ISD Boot Camp

(Sherman ISD officials did not reply to questions)

Lamar CISD (Southwest Houston suburbs)
Fort Bend County Alternative School
Students: 14-23
Grade range: 4-12

LCISD has its own alternative learning center, but operates this school under contract for the Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation Department, not its own students.

Floresville ISD
Wilson County Boot Camp School
Students: up to 25
Grade range: 7-11

A partnership with the Karnes/Wilson County Juvenile Probation Department, it’s a juvenile justice alternative education program (or JJAEP) for mandatory expulsions, or for students referred by a judge. Floresville ISD runs a separate (non-boot camp) disciplinary program as well.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD
Buell Central High School

Includes military dress, physical training and drill instructors. Students are referred for violating the student code of conduct.

Harlingen CISD
Secondary Alternative Center
Students: 93
Grade range: 6-12

HCISD’s only disciplinary program, the “S.A.C. uses military drill, counseling, and strategies in order to achieve student success.”

 

You’ll notice none of these districts are among the wealthiest in the state. As I wrote in June:

Misbehaving kids from Austin, Houston and Highland Park don’t wear battle-dress uniforms to school or have a drill sergeant follow them into the bathroom for “head breaks.” Most of BAC’s students come from schools in the poorest parts of town, where the military and Border Patrol recruit heavily.

That last line was based on remarks I heard repeatedly during interviews, that students from Brownsville’s poorest schools were disproportionately represented at the boot camp.

Adding up five years of referrals to BAC show that’s pretty much the case. In the map below, each dot represents a Brownsville ISD school—blue for high schools, green for middle—and the size of the dot represents how many students were referred to BAC. Click on a dot, or hover over the school’s name on the table, for more detail.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.

  • SoberMoney

    The problem with Boot Camp schools is that they often result in glamorizing the military. And most high school kids should never consider serving a military stint for college funding – or for most other reasons, for that matter.

    Modern wars are not honorable. They are often started and continued solely for the purpose of fulfilling campaign money promises. It doesn’t matter whether its Rep or Dem. We have become a Wall Street war profiteer nation.

    The only way our nation can start to move away from being the imperialist bully we have become is to boycott enlistment into the US military services. If we don’t provide the young, naive, and often minority bodies to sacrifice for war industry profits and for the industrial control of foreign oil and natural resources, then we may finally start to evolve toward a peace promoting nation.

    You can’t be all you can be – if your dead.

  • [email protected]

    My dad served our country during Korea and Vietnam, gave 25 years of his life to the Navy, I served during Vietnam, and my son served during the gulf war. My husband was a pilot in Vietnam. My husband and I received our college degrees/law degree with lots of help from the GI Bill, so did my son. I had no “life sense and clear direction”…and my son didn’t either! The military taught all of us how to become responsible United States Citizens, and gave us a sense of discipline and honor. None of us are ashamed of our service to the country we love, and the Constitution we vowed to protect and defend!
    If these boot-camps assist troubled youngsters find a sense of self-worth, responsibility and discipline…and help them become better Citizens of the Great State of Texas, more power to them! I’d rather know they were spending their time within the military than know that they are waiting for an injection on Death Row!

    • SoberMoney

      Viafreeman is exactly right about the potential benefits to these wayward kids about the discipline and focus that can come from “tough love.”

      But free man makes a great leap false equivalency that these Boot camps will save these kids from prison and/or the death penalty. There is no evidence that these schools prevent extreme sociopathy. And to get real aren’t we really talking about the extremely disproportionate number of minorities in our prisons? Will the boot camps solve those problems?

      These boot camps only exist because our public schools are failing at making the learning experience exciting and fulfilling. Add in the growing poverty (and a declining middle class) caused by spending way too much money on the Pentagon instead of education and jobs, we have a massive failure of our domestic economic priorities – which causes family strife and angry children who see no future for them.

      Yes, ultimately these kids need to “shape up or ship out.” They cannot act like victims of society. But the social support network they have access to also need to be sane and honest.

      Our nation is living a big lie now. Pretending late stage tough love is the answer is doomed to fail.

      • [email protected]

        doubt about all the other issues you mentioned! I’m a child of the 50s and remember a different America- one where if you didn’t “hoe the weeds from the garden” and spend all summer canning fruits and vegetables..and gathering fire wood, you’d either starve or freeze to death! That was back when an unmarried woman protected her honor until she married and when a couple said “I do”.. They DID…Marriage vows didn’t end with “for as long as you both shall want to.” and having a child meant you had responsibility to raise that child, and teach right from wrong! One car parked in front of a modest home seemed to be enough…and Mom helped with homework, dad took the boys fishing. It’s not the kids fault they experience extreme sociopathy…parents worry more about having a Beemer & a Rolex than what games their kids are playing on X-box. Our society has lost touch with what’s truly important (our children) to obtain the “material”… I’ve seen kids going without food…yet they are wearing $300 sneakers! Our children can’t foresee a “future” because they don’t understand working for what you need/want…they expect the government to provide the essentials, and then are frustrated they don’t own the THINGS the Kardashians flaunt. Until we all devote ourselves to our children first and THINGS second…we are doomed. At least the boot camps touch a few lives and teach CONSEQUENCES for ones actions. A mere drop in the pail…but a beginning…