During the five months Quincy Tuttle, 12, went through the legal process, he was held in custody at the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center and continued his education in a classroom behind locked doors.
Tuttle was 11 years old when he brought a handgun and more than 400 rounds of ammunition to Frontier Middle School on Oct. 23. He was sentenced March 13 to two years in a juvenile detention facility after pleading guilty and avoiding a trial. He's headed to Echo Glen Children's Center in Snoqualmie, a medium/maximum state-run facility for male offenders who are age 14 and younger and all female offenders. His education will continue there as well.
When Clark County youths make bad decisions and end up expelled from school, arrested or locked up, they are still entitled to an education from the state of Washington. Several programs have been created to provide an education for these kids. Some focus more on academics, while others concentrate more on teaching behavioral skills. Others are a hybrid.
Youth who are sentenced to at least a year and a day in a detention facility are sent to Echo Glen or one of three other state-run juvenile detention facilities, said Kathleen Sande, institution education program supervisor for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia.
The others are Green Hill Academic School in Chehalis, for the most serious offenders; Naselle Youth Camp offered by the Naselle-Grays River Valley School District, a school and work camp operated by the Department of Natural Resources; and Camp Outlook in Connell, a juvenile offender basic training camp.
School behind bars
Tuttle is one of hundreds of minors who are locked up in the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center each year.
"We've always had 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds," said Jodi Martin, program coordinator for Clark County Juvenile Court. However, "It's the 15- and 16-year olds that make up the majority of our system."
During the 2012-13 school year, 887 youths ages 12-18 were held in detention at the Clark County Juvenile Justice Center, Sande said. That's a 48 percent increase over the previous school year's 598. Most stay only 48 to 72 hours.
"All kids who come into a detention center are not charged with a crime and most or many are simply waiting to see a judge or awaiting their trial, hence the term &detention,'" said Sande.
"It's not that they're bad kids. They've made poor decisions," said Pat Escamilla, Clark County Juvenile Court administrator.
Clark County's Juvenile Court system has received national recognition for its restorative justice approach championed by Escamilla and his predecessor, Ernie Veach-White.
The county's detention facility has three certified teachers with Educational Service District 112 who provide daily education Monday through Friday, said Escamilla.
The locked area is divided into three pods for boys and one pod for girls. Each pod has 12 single-occupancy cells, plus a classroom and a common room. Only two pods for male offenders are in use, because Clark County's Juvenile Justice Center is focusing on restorative justice, which means many lower-level offenders do restorative community service and make restitution to their victims rather than being incarcerated, said Kevin Johnson, who works for ESD 112 and oversees the educational programs at the juvenile justice center.
On a recent morning, Johnson pushes a button that alerts the person monitoring the door to the young women's pod. The door opens and Johnson enters the common area. Six locked cell doors face the area on the main level. Another six cells are on the mezzanine.
Today, only two girls are in custody, but Johnson says the numbers fluctuate and sometimes reach 15. When it's time for class to begin, the cell doors are opened, and the girls walk into Allison Milhorn's classroom and sit. Wearing orange sweatshirts, black pants, orange socks and black flip flops, one flops down and lays her head on her desk.
The space looks like any other school classroom: storage cabinets, shelves packed with books, computers in the back of the classroom, the class schedule posted underneath the clock. Student artwork decorates the walls. One drawing that says "Make a change" is written in colorful graffiti-style block letters.
Today is short story day. Once a week, Erica Rhodes from the Vancouver Community Library reads aloud a short story with relevance to the students housed at the facility. When she finishes reading, Rhodes begins asking questions to draw the girls out. One girl eagerly participates, but the other girl's head still rests on her desk. When Rhodes asks her a question, she finally lifts her head and starts sharing her thoughts about the story.
Milhorn, who works for ESD 112, has taught alternative programs for 15 years, but this is her first year at the juvenile justice center
"It's the best place I've been," Milhorn said after class. "It's neat to be able to work with a segment of the population that many people have given up on."
Zero tolerance and education
When schools adopted a zero tolerance policy in the early 1990s, suspension and expulsion rates rapidly increased. But students' right to an education continued.
Although some of the students were removed from school after incidents involving weapons, drugs or alcohol, many more expulsions are related to bullying, fighting and violence. But the biggest numbers fall into the "other" category, which covers a broad spectrum of offenses and can include kids dropping the F-bomb, talking back to a teacher or disrupting class.
In Washington state, zero tolerance has resulted in thousands of kids being pulled out of the regular classroom. During the 2012-13 school year, Clark County schools issued 4,489 student suspensions and 231 expulsions.
Most of these youths aren't arrested or locked up, but they're prohibited temporarily from returning to their neighborhood school. A 2013 law, Senate Bill 5946, aimed at strengthening student educational outcomes, sets a one-year limit on how long a student can be expelled. Within 10 days of an emergency expulsion, which is when a student is immediately removed, it must be changed to another discipline form.
Prior to the bill's passing, there was not a set expulsion time. One of the bill's supporters, the League of Education Voters, says there's a correlation between higher suspension and expulsion rates, higher dropout rates and incarceration rates.
Students who aren't incarcerated but are still expelled due to an offense are encouraged to continue their education by enrolling in an alternative education program.
Down the hall from Milhorn's classroom, in the unlocked wing of the juvenile justice center, teens who aren't incarcerated but are adjudicated or have a probation counselor listen as teacher John Kreklow answers a student's question about an assignment to summarize a newspaper article in one paragraph. About 40 teens ages 16 to 18 are enrolled in the GAP program that prepares students to take the General Educational Development, or GED. Many of these teens failed in traditional classrooms and alternative schools and often are a year or two behind in their credits.
Kreklow, who has taught here for his entire nine-year career, said he feels he's making a difference in the lives of his students.
"I do see a lot of growth in these kids," he said. "I see a positive change in them."
Some students are in his class for two weeks, but others stay much longer.
Another GED preparation program is offered on-site at ESD 112 for students who have either been adjudicated from the court system or just expelled from school.
"Not all are court-referred kids, but a good portion are," said Johnson of ESD 112.
About 300 students a year complete the GED program either in Kreklow's class at the juvenile justice center or at ESD 112. Of those, about 200 kids a year earn their GED, Johnson said. Students take the GED online at Clark College.
This year, Evergreen Public Schools, the county's largest school district, has revamped its 49th Street Academy re-entry program for expelled students, said Jey Buno, the district's director of special services. The new program includes behavioral and social support, and an academic component. Currently the district's re-entry program serves 25 students who have been expelled from middle or high school.
Last school year, 35 students were enrolled in the program; 29 returned to their neighborhood schools and six continued in the re-entry program.
Since the program's inception during the 2010-11 school year, 82 students have achieved their plans for success and returned to school. Only three students have been referred to the program again during that time, Buno said.
Vancouver Public Schools' Back on Track program has a waiting list of expelled kids who need to complete the program before they can re-enter their neighborhood school.
In addition to the three hours they spend in the Back on Track classroom, students spend two hours a day doing their academic work on computers at Vancouver Virtual Academy.
The 12-week program is based on ART -- Aggression Replacement Training. Essentially, ART is a toolbox to equip the youth to function in school and in life. It teaches expelled youth coping skills and gives them practice modeling appropriate behavior when they're confronted with someone who challenges them to a fight, offers them drugs or some other real-life challenge.
The trend in juvenile detention is to focus on keeping kids in an educational environment, whether that's in a locked area for kids who may be a threat, in an alternative classroom or back in their neighborhood school.