Gabe was only 9 when his school expelled him from the 2nd grade for a year.

He had pushed a teacher.

The Montgomery County school system in Alabama believed Gabe, who was already two grades behind, simply didn't belong in school.

Before the January 2007 expulsion, the boy's parents had repeatedly requested that the school test their son to determine whether he needed special education services. He had already been diagnosed with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Yet the school never evaluated him, even though his teachers and principals knew that he suffered from severe behavioral problems, that he was taking medication and that he lagged behind in his studies.

"They were very quick to give up on him," Gabe's father, Scott, said of the school. "If it weren't for the SPLC, there isn't any telling where he would be now."

Gabe's mother contacted the SPLC last March. The SPLC intervened and got him back in school and into a program to address his behavioral problems. He was also evaluated for special education services.

"Gabe's story is, unfortunately, all too common," said Ron Lospennato, director of the SPLC's School-to-Prison Reform Project. "Instead of giving these students the help they need – and deserve under federal law – schools shirk their legal responsibility and throw the students out when they no longer want to deal with them."

Now 10, Gabe is a 3rd-grade student at a Montgomery elementary school. He is in a special education classroom for children with severe behavior problems.

Although he is still struggling with emotional problems and catching up with his studies, Gabe's teacher expects him to begin the next school year in the 4th grade.

"He's doing much better," his father said. "The school is the exact opposite now. It's a day-and-night difference."

He added the school seems willing to "go the extra mile" to help his son.

"Gabe is not only proof these children can be put back on the right track, but they can start out on the right track if schools live up to their responsibilities," Lospennato said "We can't just throw away 9-year-old children."

Editors' note: Gabe's name has been changed to protect his identity.