Police: JCPS needs to address 'serious problems' at Minor Daniel - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Police: JCPS needs to address 'serious problems' at Minor Daniels Academy

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Minor Daniels Academy (photo source: WDRB Reporter Toni Konz) Minor Daniels Academy (photo source: WDRB Reporter Toni Konz)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – One teacher has been locked in a closet, another teacher has had her car stolen. Several other teachers and staff members have been assaulted. Nearby businesses are being ransacked.

All of these incidents have occurred since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year and involve Minor Daniels Academy -- the combined middle and high school on Bashford Manor Lane that Jefferson County Public Schools is using in an effort to reshape "alternative" education in the district.

“This is all a process,” said Bonnie Hackbarth, a spokeswoman for JCPS. “We are trying to change the culture and it’s going to take some time. Students are learning, and we are training our teachers to have high expectations for all students. We are all working to assist our students as they work through these difficult situations.”

Despite the district’s new approach towards alternative education, Hackbarth said JCPS “does not tolerate abuse or other assaultive behavior towards staff.”

“Our code of conduct still applies and there are a variety of consequences for behavior that violates code of conduct,” she said.

But teachers and law enforcement officials tell WDRB News it's among the worse they have seen at the school, which was called Buechel Metropolitan High before the school board merged Buechel and Kennedy Metro Middle, both of which serve students with behavioral problems.

"This is a serious problem and it's going to become an even bigger problem unless something is done," said West Buechel Assistant Police Chief Chris Thomas. "There have to be some kind of guidelines. We realize the kids have to go to school someplace and that we have to take care of our kids, but someone has to be responsible."

Thomas said the majority of the problems seem to be with students of middle-school age.

"They are showing up late to school, they are going into area businesses -- shoplifting, fighting and causing trouble," Thomas said.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association is expected to share results of a survey of Minor Daniels teachers at tonight’s (Oct. 12) school board meeting at Westport Middle School.

The union says teachers will address the board about working conditions and other issues at Minor Daniels Academy.

Since the current school year started, there have been 26 suspensions of high school students and 73 middle school student suspensions at the school, according to JCPS.

Several teachers who contacted WDRB News say they have been threatened and they fear for their lives. The teachers did not want to be named out of fear of retaliation from students and district-level administrators.

“I can’t sleep and am terrified every day that I will be seriously hurt,” one teacher said.

“The kids do whatever they please. There is no discipline,” another teacher said.

Thomas said one incident at the Bashford Manor Target involved several Minor Daniels students shoplifting, then damaging a shelf.

Another incident involved a student pointing a weapon -- later identified as an airsoft gun, Thomas said -- at passing cars.

In yet another incident, a group of female Minor Daniels students accosted a couple walking near the intersection of Bashford Manor and Mall Drive. 

"Most of these issues are taking place during the school day when the kids should be in school," Thomas said. "In some cases, they don't go to school first and just roam around, in other cases they are being let out of the school and not being released to parents."

Thomas said that brings up a security issue not just for the surrounding community, but for the students themselves.

"What if something happens to the child during school hours?" Thomas said. "If we arrest a juvenile or get out with them during school hours, we can't just let them go. They have to be released to a parent or guardian."

Hackbarth said parents or guardians are told of suspensions by phone, email and a letter.

Depending on the time of the day the violation occurred, the student usually spends the remainder of the day in the school's "transition room." 

"Sometimes, the parents or guardians request that we allow them to drive home immediately or take the TARC bus," Hackbarth said. "No student is sent home without us first reaching the parent or guardian. A student under suspension is not under the control of the school district."

The effort to reshape alternative education is among the most-watched changes in JCPS this school year.

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted in March to move forward with the plan to merge Buechel and Kennedy and make changes at three other alternative sites -- despite concern about increased class sizes and few details on how the work would be implemented.

District officials say the changes will better meet the needs of individual students, as well as reduce the drop-out rate and increase the graduation rate of the district's alternative students as well as help ensure safe and orderly environments in the district's other schools.

Dewey Hensley, the district’s chief academic officer who suddenly resigned last week, previously said the district’s goal is “provide more support to students by adding career programs and success pathways so that they are better engaged.”

The school is using a method called "restorative practices."  According to the International Institute for Restorative Practices, the premise behind restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative and productive when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.

In addition, staff at Minor Daniels Academy has been trained on Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports -- strategies for defining, teaching and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments.

However, JCTA president Brent McKim says he has been "concerned for quite some time with the (PBIS) approach the district has taken."

“It’s largely reactive – you establish the rules, wait for them to be broken and then you react,” McKim said. “I think there are better ways to build cultures and help kids internalize positive behavior and self-discipline."

McKim said he believes approaches like restorative practices – when done well – work.

“Although they call this Minor Daniels Restorative Academy, it does not appear that anyone in the building deeply understands how to implement and support a true restorative practices program there,” McKim said. “And I don’t want other teachers or people in the community to think that it’s some big disaster when it’s not being implemented correctly.”

In his resignation letter, Hensley indicated JCPS was concerned more about its image than about helping children.

"It has been a challenge to be heard above the 'noise' of indecision, the circling buzz of perception and the hammer strikes to fabricate an image," he said. 

Hensley's frustrations with district leadership has been evident over the past few weeks.

On Sept. 17, board member Chris Brady sent Hargens, Hensley and other board members an email asking them for an update on the alternative school reorganization.

"When the board approved the new alternative school model, I voiced my concern the plan didn't seem completely thought out and we needed to ensure students and teachers were properly supported," wrote Brady, whose letter was prompted from concerns raised to him by a teacher at Liberty High School. "The letter below details what I feared might happen."

On Sept. 29, Hensley responded with a three-page white paper, admitting that the district is "a long way from getting it right for many reasons, but to attack the 'cocoon of change' my team has put around the (alternative schools) initiative is to purposely ignore the systemic and adaptive changes and challenges we have faced and do face from many different layers."

Hensley also talks about pushback from teachers about the changes. 

"We are not mismanaging alternative schools, as Mr. Brady charges in his email -- for the first time we are actually managing them," Hensley said. "In the past these schools were run by people I like very much personally, however they were allowed by the school district to serve as benevolent dictators."

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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