JCPS proposal removes attorney, board member from student discip - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS proposal removes attorney, board member from student discipline code committee

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A recommendation from Superintendent Donna Hargens would remove a school board member and the general counsel from the committee that reviews and suggests changes to the district's student code of conduct and discipline procedures. 

Every two years, a committee of teachers, principals, parents, community members and other administrators spends months reviewing the district's Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline and recommend revisions to the school board for approval.

In the past, a school board member and the district's general counsel served on the committee, but both would be removed according to the revision that is up for approval by the Jefferson County Board of Education on Monday:

"The proposed revision will improve the functioning of the committee by permitting staff and stakeholders to formulate independent recommendations for changes to the code for consideration by the board. The proposed revision also reflects the change to the district organizational structure wherein the general counsel function is provided by external counsel."

The last time the code of conduct was reviewed was 2014, so it will be reviewed again in 2016.

JCPS school board member Linda Duncan, who served on the code of conduct committee since 2007, said she is not in support of the change.

"I feel that by eliminating a board member, whether it's me or anyone else, you are losing the voice of someone who brings a broad perspective," she said. "We are like everyone else, we are stakeholders too. We are very much engaged in the process of helping people navigate the system."

"It's not that one board member makes a decision for the entire board, it's just a voice of someone who has a different perspective," Duncan said.

In addition, she said it helps to have a board member sit on the committee that recommends changes to an important policy -- one that has been under intense scrutiny this year.

Current and former teachers, parents and community members have attended the past three school board meetings, urging 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.

"The public has contacted us many times over the past year regarding the issue of student behavior in our schools," Duncan said. "Part of our role is to answer their questions and direct them towards possible solutions."

Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said local districts are in charge of setting up various policy and procedure committees.

"I think with conduct and discipline issues, you walk a fine line of micromanaging the administration," he said. "The vast majority of disciplinary action is handled by the district administration, unless you get to the issue of school to school implementation across the district and that has been a concern raised in the past in Jefferson County."

Hughes also noted that ultimately, "the highest penalty in the code of conduct is expulsion...and that is up to the school board to enforce."

Implementation of the code of conduct was brought up during the last revision process. Some principals told the committee that consistency in enforcing the code of conduct varies from school to school. 

For example, what warrants a suspension at one school may not warrant a suspension at another school.

Hughes said as long as the JCPS board "has the final say and has adequate time to have their questions answered before they act on any permanent changes to the conduct," removing a board member from the committee should be OK.

On the issue of removing the general counsel from the committee, Hughes said "you wouldn't want something like this to come up for approval without the proper vetting by an attorney."

"Now whether that occurs during the drafting of the policy or before the product goes to the board for final action is up to the local district to decide," he said. "It is possible for legal questions to arise during the drafting of a policy."

JCPS voted last year to eliminate the office of general counsel and outsource legal service to two local law firms.

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

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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