In an article by veteran journalist Heather Vogell, ProPublica asks hard questions about alternative schools.

The word “alternative” implies a choice. But in an era when the freedom to pick your school is trumpeted by advocates and politicians, students don’t choose the alternative schools to which districts send them for breaking the rules: They’re sentenced to them. Of 39 state education departments that responded to a ProPublica survey last year, 29, or about three-quarters, said school districts could transfer students involuntarily to alternative programs for disciplinary reasons…

Thousands of students are involuntarily reassigned to these schools each year, often for a seemingly minor offense, and never get back on track, a ProPublica investigation has found. Alternative schools are often located in crumbling buildings or trailers, with classes taught largely by computers and little in the way of counseling services or extracurricular activities.

The forced placements have persisted even though the Obama administration in 2014 told schools they should suspend, expel or transfer students to alternative schools only as a last resort — and warned them that they risked a federal civil rights investigation if their disciplinary actions reflected discrimination based on race. Federal data shows that black and Hispanic students are often punished more than white students for similar violations.

Moreover, despite legal protections afforded students with disabilities, a disproportionate number of those exiled in some districts have special education plans…

Now, the Trump administration is being pressed to view such removals more favorably. In November, a group of teachers and conservative education advocates met with aides to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to express concerns about the 2014 guidance. The group said the Obama-era approach made schools less safe, allowing disruptive students to hijack classrooms.

That meeting has raised fears among civil rights advocates that the Trump administration will rescind the guidance, prompting schools to increase the number of children excluded from regular classrooms. “We’re deeply concerned this administration is not committed to protecting the civil rights of students,” says Elizabeth Olsson, senior policy associate for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She cited reports that DeVos may scrap a rule aimed at preventing schools from unnecessarily placing minority students in special education.

A federal education spokesman on Nov. 29 declined to comment on the issue.

To be sure, many students are sent to alternative schools for major offenses involving drugs, alcohol, weapons or violence. But others are forced to go for reasons that include rudeness, using their cellphones at inappropriate times, or — in about half of the states ProPublica surveyed — nondisciplinary problems such as bad grades. In states like Florida, students who fall academically have been pushed to transfer to alternative schools as a way to game the state’s accountability system. Pennsylvania law lets school officials relegate students to that state’s Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth program for showing “disregard for school authority.” In Aiken, about 40 percent of transfers in 2014-2015, the year Logan was reassigned, were for lesser offenses, including 13 for using profanity, 27 for truancy, 28 for not following an adult’s instructions and 18 for showing disrespect.