Activists urge 'culture change' for JCPS suspension policy - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Activists urge 'culture change' for JCPS suspension policy

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A group of community activists says Jefferson County Public Schools suspends a disproportionate number of African-American students and needs a culture change in classrooms.

JCPS says its suspensions are going down, and it has started programs to keep troubled students in class.

But it's not fast enough for Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together (CLOUT), which convinced the school system to strengthen its anti-bullying policies two years ago.

"Giving him the opportunity to make amends for the problem that occurred at the school and giving him the opportunity to return to the school would have benefited him a great deal," said Karen Williams, whose nephew eventually dropped out of high school after a suspension.

It's why she now lobbies for CLOUT, which claims the state's largest district has a racially-biased discipline policy creating a "school-to-prison pipeline."

Members advocate an idea called "restorative practice" to handle discipline within schools, rather than imposing thousands of suspensions that keep students out of class.

"Is that necessarily being nicer to the offender?" WDRB's Chris Turner asked CLOUT member Chris Kolb.

"No, absolutely not. In fact it holds students more accountable for their behavior," he responded.

Kolb says that some students would actually prefer suspensions because they feel the "restorative practice" is too strict.

Numbers show more than 13,000 suspensions a year for JCPS under a zero-tolerance Code of Conduct.

Roughly two-thirds of those suspended are African-American students despite making up only 32 percent of the enrollment.

CLOUT points to the success of the "restorative practice" in Boston Public Schools, which suspended only 120 students last year -- 10 times less than JCPS.

"JCPS is in danger of a civil rights violation," Kolb told fellow CLOUT members in a meeting Tuesday.  "Racial disproportionality is a civil rights violation."

A JCPS spokeswoman declined an on-camera interview on the suspension issues, but said numbers show they are down year-to-year overall, and trending down for the first four months of the current school year.

JCPS has started two in-school response programs to address discipline issues. But they're not in every school.

Spokeswoman Christi Lanier-Robinson said in an email, "This system reflects the district's commitment to providing a positive learning environment that supports student achievement."

Separately, the Office of Civil Rights in the federal Department of Education has asked JCPS for information about its suspensions.

The federal government is asking 28 large school districts if blacks are disciplined more frequently and harshly than "similarly situated" white students.

JCPS's deadline to respond is Monday.

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