LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky's top education official has ordered a "management review" of Jefferson County Public Schools following the district's under-reporting of the number of times students were either physically held down or confined to a room during the 2014-15 year.

In a letter sent to Superintendent Donna Hargens on Wednesday, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said he will deploy Kentucky Department of Education staff to JCPS to "specifically focus on the restraint and seclusion issue and to ensure that students are receiving the supports and protections they must have as required by law."

Pruitt added that if the review "indicates the presence of critically ineffective or inefficient management, a full management audit will be conducted and could lead to state assistance or state management of the district."

According to internal data kept by the district, JCPS students were restrained or secluded 4,403 times during the 2014-15 year, but the district only correctly reported 174 of those incidents to the Kentucky Department of Education.

The discrepancy, initially reported by The Courier-Journal in March, which is when Hargens sent a letter to Pruitt informing him about the problem.

"The management review will collect and review additional data, and because I have determined that the restraint and seclusion data issue is a significant deficiency within the district, a site investigation of local management practices will be conducted," he said. "The management review will be a broader investigation of district practices and will be in addition to the specific supports we will provide around restraint, seclusion and positive behavioral

According to a 2013 Kentucky regulation, restraint and seclusion techniques may only be used if a student's behavior poses imminent danger or physical harm to themselves or others. It also states that all physical restraints and seclusions shall be documented by a written record of each use of seclusion or physical restraint and be maintained in the student’s education record. 

Hargens confirmed the district received the letter Wednesday.

"Today we received communication from the Kentucky Department of Education that it will be reviewing seclusion and restraint data from the district and assisting the district in developing systems to ensure accurate reporting," Hargens wrote in a prepared statement sent to the media.

"From the beginning, JCPS has been transparent regarding this issue and welcomes the state's support, guidance and insight about how our district can improve data reporting," Hargens said. "I also welcome the department's management review of our district, which will help us continuously improve and continue focusing on putting the children of Jefferson County first."

Pruitt said over the past few months, Kentucky Department of Education staff members have been assisting JCPS staff in reviewing, reconciling and uploading data from the district's separate data system into the the state's information system.

"As we have witnessed repeatedly, the separate tracking system used by JCPS invites errors and allows for significant discrepancies in reported data," Pruitt wrote, adding that the use of a separate system has "masked issues at the local level that are ripe for state assistance and public scrutiny."

Pruitt said while he appreciates "JCPS' willingness to reach out to the KDE to work through the data issues surrounding restraint and seclusion reporting, there is a recurring theme of data discrepancies as the district maintains separate systems for multiple data collection points."

Hargens said two years ago, the state asked for the seclusion and restraint data to be put into Infinite Campus -- the state's online data reporting and collection system.

"This created a situation where you had an internal database that was not communicating with an external database," Hargens said in March. "The solution at the time was to have the reports entered into the two separate systems."

In his letter, Pruitt took JCPS to task for the way it has been reporting its data.

"JCPS' continued struggles with collecting, managing and preserving the data's integrity need to be put to rest," Pruitt wrote. "Data should be informing. It can demonstrate where there are good things happening. It also can be absolutely critical in highlighting where there are opportunities for improvement and open the doors for honest discussions about how to make things better for students."

"Most importantly, data can inform district leaders if there are cultural issues at play in the district or in individual schools that place students at risk," he said.

In May, an internal auditor says JCPS employees and administrators underreported the number of times JCPS students were either physically held down or confined to a room by a "significant amount" during the 2014-15 year.

Jim Tencza, director of internal audits with Dean Dorton, a full-service CPA firm, told the school board on Tuesday that "some administrators and employees were motivated to not report all seclusion and restraint incidents."

"Principals and assistant superintendents were rewarded for having good results at their schools," according to Tencza's preliminary report. "Some principals stated that it would look bad on them or their school if they had a lot of seclusion or restraint incidents."

Pruitt's letter also mentions an incident involving an autistic teenager whose legs were broken when a JCPS teaching assistant physically restrained him.

Earlier this week, an outside panel concluded that physical abuse was the cause of injuries to Brennan Long.

Earlier investigations by Louisville police and state child protection officials into the 2014 near-fatal incident had been inconclusive over whether abuse had occurred.

But members of the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel announced that physical abuse is the only viable explanation.

Witnesses said Long was being disruptive before a teaching assistant lowered him to the floor in November 2014. Long nearly died, needing blood transfusions to survive.

JCPS paid Long's family $1.75 million earlier this year to resolve the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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