The majority of more than 80 students in Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty placed in alternative education last year were Māori.
Figures obtained from the Ministry of Education under the Official Information Act showed 74 students were placed in alternative education in 2017 - 54 were Māori.
Of the 74 students placed in alternative education in Tauranga last year, 19 returned to mainstream education.
In the Western Bay of Plenty, five of the nine students placed in alternative education were Māori and four students returned to mainstream education.
Katrina Casey, Ministry of Education deputy secretary of the enablement and support sector, said it was important the right support was available for young people for whom mainstream education wasn't working.
"It is important all of these students have good options to ensure they can be prepared for further education training or employment," she said.
Alternative education manager for the Tauranga consortium Jude Brown said students could be placed because of a dislike for school, or learning difficulties.
"This can then show up in schools as non-compliant behaviour, which could result in stand downs or exclusion from school."
"Sometimes students don't have friends because their families are so transitional and they don't know how to form positive relationships. Sometimes students just get lost in a big school environment."
Brown said many students who end up in alternative education had complex and complicated backgrounds, which may include drug or alcohol issues, or violence.
"There is often some dysfunction in home backgrounds, and this is no different whatever their skin colour."
Brown said alternative education provided a supportive environment for students to learn new behaviours and was often a transitional point before they returned to school, a course or the workforce.
"The younger the students are going into alternative education the more we look at there being a transition back into mainstream school."
Katrina Lemon wrote a master's thesis titled: "In what ways do the perceptions of connectedness of Māori alternative education secondary school affect their self-efficacy within the learning environment".
The University of Waikato doctoral student interviewed alternative education students, teachers and management to inquire into the reasons for the disconnection.
Students enjoyed primary school and alternative education environments, but felt disconnected with the secondary school environment.
"Students discussed being seen as 'bottom feeders' and 'second-class black citizens' in secondary mainstream education, and could articulate well what racism looked and felt like to them," Lemon said.
Lemon said a lack of equity was an issue along with a lack of empathy for the students' lived realities and students missed the whānau approach of primary schools.
"As people we make mistakes. However, a mistake in the secondary environment became a negative defining moment in these students' education, rather than a learning experience," Lemon said.
"[It is] a reminder that we as teachers need to fully consider our words and actions, and the lifetime effect a perceived 'throw-away comment' could have."
Buddy Mikaere conducted a study under the Tu Wharetoa Māori Trust Board about seven years ago, which looked at Māori in the education system from early childhood to high school.
Mikaere said Māori children who achieved well at school lived in supportive home environments.
"It showed that what they did at school is valued by their families," he said. "The expectation was set at home."
Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said the statistic was disappointing, but the numbers should not "define our Māori students".
Gordon said schools needed to look at the advantages of being a Māori student.
"Whenever we think about our Māori students' education it is not a problem to be solved but something to be celebrated," he said.
Shemira Sparhan embraced her tutor in a hug that brings tears to each other's eyes.
"Look at this beautiful girl in her uniform," Tauranga Youth Academy head tutor Dianne Douglas said to Shemira.
It is the fourth day since Shemira, 15, returned to school after about a year in alternative education.
The connection between the tutor and the student is strong.
"She has just always supported me when I felt no one else really was," Shemira said. "Whaea kind of gave me a sense of hope."
The Year 11 Otumoetai College student was put into alternative education about halfway through last year.
"I was just badly behaved," she said. "I was smoking on the back of the field and just doing things that you shouldn't do at school."
Why? "I was just trying to fit in."
But when Shemira was taken out of school she realised it was where she needed to be.
"It felt good that I still had a chance to get back in school, it made me work harder," she said. "I don't really love anything about school, it is just the routine."
Her favourite subject was economics. "I think it is just the teacher, he is pretty cool."
After completing NCEA, Shemira wanted to study travel and tourism.
"I want to travel," she said.
Tauranga Youth Academy head tutor Dianne Douglas said the door never shut for Shemira.
"Shemira is a very bright student and she always wanted to come back to school," said Douglas, who believed there was a misunderstanding that students in alternative care were challenged academically.
"There are just other areas to work on," she said.
Tauranga Youth Academy catered for a maximum of 18 students. Each day, students were picked up and dropped off to school, which Douglas said gave tutors the opportunity to build a rapport with parents and caregivers.
Douglas said having a supportive home background is "crucial" for students.
Despite families wanting the best for their children, some students did not want to go back to school, which Douglas said was something they had to accept.
"It is about the individual and the majority of our students will come around to making a decision and most of them will go for some education option, whether it is back to secondary school or polytech or just having a job to go to," she said.
Attendance is addressed, and so is the students' future.
"It can be a challenge at times but admittedly these children have been alienated or have found it difficult in the mainstream environment," Douglas said.
"From our perspective we make it very clear that education is a priority."
Bay schools contracted to provide alternative education in 2017 and 2018:
Mount Maunganui College
Murupara Area School
Tarawera High School
Rotorua Lakes High School
Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau
Te Puke High School
Whakatane High School
In order to attend alternative education, a student must meet one of the following criteria:
- Be out of a registered school for two terms or more
- Be excluded and enrolment is refused by local schools (including a history of stand-downs or suspension in the past two years)
- Have left Te Kura after enrolment in either category 1 or 2
- Have been absent for at least half of the past 20 school weeks for reasons other than illness and the absence has meant they are unable to maintain a mainstream programme
- Has multiple suspensions and risks further suspension
- Have been alienated: At any one time 20 per cent of students do not have to fit one of the first five categories above but, in the professional opinion of the school, alternative education is the best option for the student
Ministry of Education
Alternative education - by the numbers:
Nationwide: 1840 students placed in alternative education in 2017
Middle Eastern, Latin American or African: 9
Ministry of Education