Ellis County breaks ground on JJAEP

Alternative education school will relieve pressure on local school districts

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
Ellis County dignitaries participate in a groundbreaking for the new Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Center on Friday at the Ellis County Farm. Taking part are (left to right): Judge Bob Carroll of the 40th District Court, County Precinct 2 Commissioner Lane Grayson, Italy ISD Superintendent Rachel Kistner, Ennis ISD Superintendent Jay Tullos, JJAEP Administrator Darrin Robinson, County Judge Todd Little, and Midlothian ISD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources & Student Services KayLynn Day.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Friday for Ellis County’s newest school. But it’s not a school in the traditional sense.

County dignitaries from across the judicial, governmental and educational spectrum were on hand to mark the start of construction of the building that will host the county’s Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program, or JJAEP. The new facility will be at the Ellis County Rural Heritage Farm property, which is located on FM 66 just west of Waxahachie.

Through this program, juvenile offenders will be given a second chance to make better choices and continue pursuing educational opportunities before re-integration into a normal classroom setting.

Funding for the new JJAEP was established in 2019 by a vote of county commissioners, all of whom are still serving.  The vote was 4-0, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry abstaining because of a conflict of interest. The JJAEP was part of a $4.9 million one-year bond note that also funded two other new county facilities.

Local school administrators expressed the need for a JJAEP in Ellis County as far back as 2018, when superintendents raised the alarm that students from surrounding counties with felony convictions were moving into Ellis County school districts to remain in public education.

The purpose of Juvenile Justice Alternative Education is to serve to educate distraught students, providing structure and discipline. The soon-to-be-released U.S. Census for 2020 will show Ellis County exceeding 180,000 in population, which by state law requires the county to establish a JJAEP.

In lieu of a JJAEP up to now, local school districts have been running alternative education programs such as Waxahachie ISD’s Challenge Academy and Midlothian ISD’s LEAP Academy, which is distinct from WISD’s LEAP Academy for training aspiring administrators.

However, recent enrollment growth in general in the county has caused these alternative education programs to fill, taxing district resources.

Without these programs, the only other alternative is either suspension or expulsion out of school, which educators say is the last resort because it leaves potentially dangerous individuals unsupervised in educational settings.