LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- JCPS should retain the process it has used to "exit" students from its magnet schools but do more to emphasize student support, increase consistency and establish greater capacity, according to recommendations made to the school board during a work session on Tuesday.

The district's Magnet Steering Committee was asked by the board to explore changes to the district’s exit policy for its magnet schools, including the possibility of no longer removing a student from a program due to behavior issues, attendance issues, and/or low academic performance. 

But following a community forum conducted earlier this month and a survey in which 80 percent of 1,800 respondents stated they wanted JCPS to keep its current exit policy for its magnet schools and programs, the committee suggested the district retain the policy but make "significant changes."

"If we are to keep this exiting process, we need to refocus the process," said Michael Hirn, a JCPS parent who serves on the committee. "It's not about getting the kids to leave, it's more about trying to get them to be successful and stay in the program. We need to engage with families early."

JCPS removes about 400 students a year from magnet programs under the district’s exit policy, which first states that a student be placed on probation.

Superintendent Donna Hargens said Tuesday she will bring a formal recommendation to the school board in October.

Board members were mostly receptive to the recommendations, but also expressed concerns they've had over equity and fairness of the policy.

"Having a standing exit committee is a very powerful tool, it's very intimidating…that’s a tool the other schools do not have," said school board member Linda Duncan. "It creates a system of two different ways of doing things."

School board chairman David Jones Jr. went a step further, asking if the exit policy is "so important for magnet schools, should other schools have an exit policy too?"

"If this is such a great idea, why not do it everywhere?" he asked.

Duncan also expressed concern that the majority of the survey respondents were connected to the district's magnet schools either as a parent, teacher or employee.

Barbara Dempsey, the district's director of student assignment who also serves on the steering committee, said it was a challenge to "engage people in the process who are not already engaged."

"It's hard to ignore the voices of those who chose to respond, it's hard to say that’s not what we want," Dempsey said. "How can we keep with the policy but also make sure we are being fair to students and making it better?"

The committee, which has been operating since October 2015, has been tasked with exploring recommendations provided by the Magnet Schools of America in its April 2014 report to the Jefferson County Board of Education.

The Magnet Schools of America review, which cost the district $75,790, explored all of the district's optional and magnet programs and magnet schools and provided recommendations for improvement. 

During the work session, committee members spoke about the frustrations they've had throughout the process of exploring the initial recommendations provided by the Magnet Schools of America -- mostly because they wanted to make ensure the MSA recommendations are what works for JCPS students and families.

According to the district, about 5 percent of JCPS students assigned to the district’s magnet schools or programs have left those programs annually over the past five years as part of an exit process initiated by their school or at the request of their parents.

Overall, there are approximately 75,000 students enrolled in non-JCPS magnet schools or programs and about 25,000 students enrolled in JCPS magnet schools/programs.

According to district data, 5,917 students have exited one of the district’s magnet schools or programs since the 2011-12 school year. Of that number, roughly 1,896 students (32 percent) were removed after a request was initiated by their school, while 65 percent left after a request was initiated by their parent. (Note: The reason why the remaining 3 percent were exited was not specified).

Only the district’s magnet schools/programs are allowed to exit students – regular schools are not allowed to remove students unless they are referred for alternative school placement. But even then, the district’s goal is to return all students to their home schools.

The district’s current policy for removing students from magnet schools and programs has been in place since 2001.


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