LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Amid concerns that some of its schools are becoming less diverse due to demographic changes, Jefferson County Public Schools may soon begin a detailed review of its student assignment plan.

During a Tuesday evening work session, officials will provide an updated report to the school board on student assignment, including a proposed timeline that could begin a review of the district’s current plan in October and come up with possible revisions for board approval in June.

According to the work session's agenda, if the board decides it wants to move forward with a detailed review, the changes would not take effect until the start of the 2018-19 year. 

Allison Martin, a district spokeswoman, told WDRB on Thursday that "this is the time for JCPS to review its student assignment plan."

"No determinations (have been made) on revisions or whether revisions will be sought," she said. "If revisions are sought - they would be presented to the board and take effect for the 2018 school year."

Linda Duncan, who has represented south Louisville on the Jefferson County Board of Education since 2006, is one of four board members who have recently mentioned a need for the district to review its student assignment plan.  

JCPS last overhauled its student assignment plan – including changing the way it defines diversity – for the 2012-13 academic year.

"I think it's well past time for us to review this," Duncan said. "A lot has changed since it was last revised. We've got to do a better job at keeping kids closer to home."

Dena Dossett, the district’s chief of data management, planning and evaluation, said Thursday that JCPS is facing three challenges when it comes to keeping its schools integrated:  

  • Not all elementary schools are falling within the district’s diversity guideline
  • Demographics are changing and so is the elementary school cluster configuration
  • The current plan allows for racially and economically identifiable schools.

For four decades, JCPS has prided itself – and earned a national reputation – for racially integrated public schools, even in the face of the historic 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding the district from using race as the only factor in assigning students to schools.

When assigning students to schools, JCPS does not consider the race, household income or parental education of any individual student.

Instead, the county’s more than 500 U.S. Census blocks are grouped into three categories based on a combination of those factors, and schools are supposed to have an appropriate mix of students from the three categories.

But as the district’s student assignment plan has evolved over the last few years, a growing number of schools are slipping back into stark racial divisions, according to JCPS statistics reviewed by WDRB News over the past year.

The data shows that while JCPS’ total percentage of African-American elementary students has declined from 37 percent to 35 percent since the latest student assignment plan was implemented in 2012, black students have nonetheless become significantly more concentrated in a handful of mostly west Louisville elementary schools.

For example, no elementary school had a student body more than 77 percent African American during the 2011-12 year. But during the 2015-16 year, five of the district’s elementary schools – Byck, Foster, King, Wheatley and Maupin – were over 80 percent black.

The district’s elementary clusters are groups of five to eight schools within a geographic area. Parents usually have the option to send their children to any of the schools in their cluster, even if it’s not the school closest to their home. They can also apply for competitive admission to magnet schools.

The two most recent changes to the assignment plan – both of which the JCPS school board approved in early 2012 – grew out of desire to shorten the district’s bus rides and to recognize pockets of racial and socioeconomic diversity throughout Jefferson County that were undercounted in the previous plan.

According to data that will be shared with the school board on Tuesday, over the past five years:

  • Students receiving free/reduced price lunch has increased 4.5 percent to 66 percent overall
  • Non-white or minority population is up 4.6 percent to 54 percent
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) population is up 49 percent to 5,398 students

Dena Dossett, chief of data management, planning and evaluation for JCPS, says diversity is only one of the district’s six “guiding principles” in assigning students.

She previously told WDRB that ensuring diversity in schools often conflicts with other priorities, like accommodating parents’ choices.

The district’s most recent comprehensive survey found that nearly 92 percent of JCPS parents are satisfied with their child’s school.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved. 

You can reach reporter Toni Konz at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.