LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After weeks of debate over proposed changes to the JCPS code of conduct, district officials acknowledged Friday that there may not be enough time to implement any changes for the 2016-17 year, which begins Aug. 10.

That acknowledgment came following a three-hour meeting of the district's code of conduct committee, which was asked by Superintendent Donna Hargens to reconvene following public outcry and protests over some of the committee's recommendations.

"We can make changes, but as you know we are crunched for time," said John Marshall, the district's chief equity officer who is also serving as the chairman of the code of conduct committee. "I'm trying to figure out the latest we can go, to make sure we are able to print the materials but also for implementation and training purposes."

At the start of every school year, students and parents are tasked with reading the district's code of conduct, which describes how the district expects students to conduct themselves, as well as the consequences they can face if they misbehave. After they read the 48-page document, each of the 101,000 students -- and their parents -- must sign that they've read it.

DOCUMENT | JCPS Code of Conduct

Superintendent Donna Hargens, who attended the entire three-hour meeting, told WDRB that she is more concerned about "getting this right" than rushing to push through a code of conduct that has caused so much push back from teachers, students and community members.

"We want the community to understand what we are trying to do," Hargens said. "We will take all the time that we need to take in order to do that."

School board members Stephanie Horne and Lisa Willner also attended Friday's committee meeting amid the public outcry that has prompted protests from parents, teachers, students and community members.

"I think there is a lot of work still to do," said Willner on whether she thinks a new code of conduct is possible for the upcoming year.

The district's code of conduct committee -- a group of people selected by the district to revise conduct and discipline procedures every two years -- met from January through March and brought recommendations to the school board during an April 26 work session.

One of the changes that brought up a lot of discussion on Friday was the committee's suggestion on the offense of deliberate disruption to include levels specific to impact: minor, moderate and significant.

Marshall said he wants the minor, moderate and significant levels of deliberate disruption to be removed altogether. He says it promotes bias and racism and the committee should more clearly define the rules for kids. 

Seneca High School principal Kim Harbolt-Morales said she understands where Marshall is coming from, but added that "kids do things you just can’t plan on."

"It’s sometimes hard to put it into a category," she said. "We are going to have behaviors that won’t fit. I think that is why we recommended the different levels."

Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, director of Louisville's Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods and also a member of the JCPS code of conduct committee, agreed that "we cannot predict what they will do, but should we suspend kids for things we cannot anticipate?"

"I don’t think we should," said Abdur-Rahman, who suggested terminateing the category of deliberate disruption "immediately."

Marshall said JCPS doesn't "want students out of the classroom," with the "understanding that the classrooms are there to learn."

"But we also cannot and will not tolerate misbehavior," he said.

Several members of the committee said Friday they were frustrated with why they were asked to reconvene and go over the same data that was presented during the committee's first meeting on Jan. 29.

Hargens said she felt it was important to "connect the dots" between the research and data that led the committee to come up with their recommendations, as well as explain what JCPS is trying to accomplish by "helping our students to choose appropriate behaviors."

Alas, Marshall spent the first hour of the meeting going over the U.S. Department of Education's guidance to school districts to create "positive climates and focus on prevention" and to develop "clear, appropriate and consistent expectations and consequences" to address student behavior, as well as ensure fairness, equity and continuous improvement."

Cherie Dawson Edwards, an associate professor at the University of Louisville who serves as a community member on the committee, said she doesn't see the proposed changes as a "loosening" of the code of conduct, which she says has been reported by the media.

"There has been a perception that any changes to the code will make schools unsafe and I don't think that's fair," she said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Hargens said she saw "people who care deeply about children of JCPS and will work to get this right."

"This is just part of the conversation," she said. ""The code of conduct is one piece of a behavior management kind of system that includes expectations."

"We have a lot of pieces in place," Hargens said. "But school starts in August and we have to get from here to there...with a full system in place."

Under state statute and board policy, the code of conduct must be reviewed and updated at least every two years, said Jonathan Lowe, the district's director of strategy, noting that the code of conduct was last updated for the 2015-16 school year on May 26, 2015.

"So, if the (school) board chose to do so, it could leave the code alone for 2016-17, have a structured discussion (looking different than the one we just had) over the next year, and update it in April/May of 2017 for the 2017-18 school year," Lowe said.

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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