Plans for JCPS alternative school students cause worry among staff, parents
Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for Jefferson County Public Schools, told WDRB News it is not a plan, it's a "process to identify the next action steps and structure needed to help our students."
WDRB News has independently confirmed that officials met with staff members from the district's three alternative schools -- Kennedy Metro Middle, Buechel Metro High and Breckinridge Metro High -- on Tuesday, and with principals on Wednesday.
During those meetings, officials unveiled a plan that would make Buechel Metro, 1960 Bashford Manor Lane, a sixth-through-tenth grade alternative school; and Breckinridge Metro, 1128 E. Broadway, an eleventh- and twelfth-grade alternative school.
"We are strongly looking at ways to redesign our alternative schools into academies where we do a better job of providing for students who have severe behaviorial needs while keeping them away from students whose needs are much less dramatic," Hensley said.
"We are trying to differentiate so that we can help our struggling students with therapeutic supports, academic needs and career pathways," he said. "This will require a different structure."
JCPS has been searching for a place to put the district's alternative middle school students since last summer, when the Jefferson County Board of Education voted to close Kennedy Metro, 4515 Taylorsville Road, in order to make it an elementary school, in order to address capacity issues at elementary schools in the East End.
"We are worried about our kids and where they will go," said a staff member at Kennedy, who requested anonymity because of fear of retaliation. "We are scared, we don't know who to talk to. We don't know what to say or what to do."
Similar concerns were highlighted by other staff members in a letter sent to WDRB News, particularly with moving Kennedy's students to Buechel, a school they fear would be "difficult to manage due to the physical constraints of the facility."
"We believe this would cause problems due to the fact that these students are much older and street-wise than our current population," the letter reads, noting that staff is worried about Kennedy's students "interacting with students that are almost adults."
Buechel Metro currently has students in grades 9-12 who have been referred by the JCPS office of student services, juvenile court or state and county agencies. It has roughly 180 students in a building that was initially an elementary school.
Breckinridge Metro is for students who previously lived in juvenile residential facilities, were involved in juvenile court and/or long-term placement in Louisville Metropolitan Youth Detention Center. It also serves students who demonstrated success in other alternative settings, but who still appear to need the behavioral supports at the school.
Two school board members, Linda Duncan and Chris Brady, told WDRB News on Thursday that prior to being called by a reporter, they were not aware of a plan or proposal.
"We have not been told anything and I have a lot of concerns," Duncan said. "You have to be very careful when you mix kids of different ages in an alternative school environment. I am worried about putting younger children in the same building with older children, particularly in this kind of setting."
Besides having students of different ages in the same school, Duncan said, they would also be bused together.
"It's our responsibility to ensure the safety of our students," she said. "It's our responsibility to promise supervision."
Brady, who along with Duncan and other board members has repeatedly asked Hargens for details about where Kennedy Metro's students will go, said Thursday that "all we've been told is that there is a plan."
"We've been given no details," he said.
A grandmother of a sixth-grader at Kennedy Metro told WDRB News Thursday she doesn't believe her 12-year-old grandson should be in the same building with students as old as 18.
"There are kids in tenth grade who are already adults," the grandmother, who requested anonymity so her grandchild would not be identified.
There have been several incidents involving the district's alternative school students in recent months.
A former JCPS bus driver is facing charges after police say she allowed two alternative school students, ages 13 and 18, to engage in sexual relations in the seat behind her while she was driving.
Last week, two Breckinridge Metro students were fighting on a bus when after the fight, one stepped back into the stairwell and sustained serious injuries after falling out of a moving school bus.
Repeated phone calls and emails sent to Superintendent Donna Hargens and the district's chief communications officer, Helene Kramer, have not been returned since Wednesday morning.
Hensley said the district is "asking principals, teachers and other stakeholders to help us design these academies."
"The needs of children must come before adult convenience and this is a complex issue," he said, "We want to align the placement process with the needs of the students we have."
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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