LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools is not expected to begin the process on reviewing its code of conduct for the 2016-17 year until next month, but student behavior and discipline issues were a hot topic at Monday night's school board meeting.

Eight people -- including current and former teachers, parents and community members -- urged the district to address disruptive classrooms and the lack of support many of the district's teachers and staff members say they have been experiencing this year.

"We need to develop cultures where kids not only follow rules but...intrinsically believe in them," said Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. "A culture that if there is a rule broken, there is a timely and proactive response given. We need the school board to look at this whole student behavior issue and get ahead of the problem."

Paula Broyles, a 25-year teaching veteran, told the school board that as the district revisits the code of conduct, teachers need the board to guarantee that they will get "intensive restorative practices training by certified and experienced trainers."

The district has turned to intervention strategies such as restorative practices and Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports to proactively manage student behavior. 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.

"We cannot teach without support from you, including training to reduce discipline issues," said Broyles, who spent several years at Newburg Middle School before transferring to The Brown School.

"It has been reported that there have been over 4,000 suspensions for behavior in the past 12 weeks of school," Broyles said. "These children return to school and we expect them to be a changed person with better behavior, yet we have done nothing to cause any change in behavior."

More than 40 people with the community organization Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together attended the meeting, many holding signs that read "Teachers Need RP (restorative practices) not PR (public relations)."

Chris Kolb, vice-president of CLOUT, acknowledged that JCPS has made some positive steps towards addressing student behavior but that teachers need more training and support. 

"Many of our children are losing hours of learning time every day due to disruptive classrooms or unnecessary suspensions," Kolb said. "The previous code of conduct revision process failed to consider data showing what JCPS is doing is not working. Experts present at the committee meetings were rarely called on to offer their expertise and when they were, their input was frequently marginalized or ignored."

Kolb also said many JCPS teachers are "extremely unsafe at school because of a lack of support from administration to provide quality training in proven strategies." He added that since 2011, racial disproportionality in suspensions has gotten worse.

The discussion at Monday's meeting comes two weeks after a WDRB investigation showed many teachers don't feel safe in the classroom -- and that disruptive behavior from students and a lack of support from the administration is causing some to resign and leave JCPS and the profession altogether.

Two teachers who recently resigned from the district were among those who addressed the board.

Carrie Bolton, a Rutherford Elementary School teacher, was emotional as she recalled a moment in her classroom about a month ago when there was a fight at dismissal time and she called for assistance and no one came to help.

She previously told WDRB News that the majority of her time was spent "managing behavior when I am trying to meet the needs of my other students who are participating and willing to work."

"I would not be at this meeting today talking about why I resigned from the district if I had been supported," Bolton said. 

Lucretia Gue, a teacher who resigned from Frayser Elementary School, said could "no longer be responsible for things that are going to end up happening if something is not done.”

"There is no way that anyone can imagine what goes on in some of these classrooms," Gue told board members. "I just resigned two weeks ago because I didn't know what else to do. This is the worst I have ever seen student behavior."

Gue was in her fourth year as a teacher, but she was a long-term JCPS substitute teacher for nearly 15 years before she went back to get her master's degree in elementary education.

"Why am I here? I did everything I could for my kids, our kids," Gue said told board members. "I challenge you all -- sign up to be a substitute teacher for two weeks. Be a custodian for two weeks."

Karen Schwartz, a teacher at Phoenix School of Discovery, said over the past 10 years that parents, teachers and students have all made a "strong commitment to success of the school."

The students have thrived in the past because we provided a safe, nurturing environment," she said. "Unfortunately, due to recent restructuring, this safe environment is being threatened daily. As our class sizes increase, we are also being assigned violent, disruptive students -- many with emotional difficulties.The addition of these students has made it difficult to meet the needs of such an already diverse population."

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens said the district is working to help improve student behavior and improve their educational outcome, even if they have been suspended or sent to alternative schools.

Since August, 438 students have been suspended in elementary schools, 1,896 have been suspended in middle schools and more than 2,300 have been suspended in high school – that puts the total of suspensions across the whole district at 4,672. 

That's a six and a half percent increase this year over last school year, but the total number of days students have been suspended for is down.

Hargens also said the district created a new director of restorative practices position -- a person who will help train teachers in how to correctly implement strategies in their classrooms.

"This will be someone who will help roll out the training and make sure it's understood," she said. "We have to build internal capacity."

In the past week, JCTA has sent two letters to the district's 6,000 teachers telling them what to do if they have been assaulted in the classroom and explaining their rights if they are injured at school.


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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